In Rabat that same morning, Pero and Toni were having an early breakfast before driving to Casablanca to visit the young man incarcerated there in a psychiatric hospital as Moulay, the man whom they believed to be the real Youssef.
‘What time do we leave?’ Pero asked.
‘About an hour from now,’ Toni replied. ‘Our people will be ready at ten. The Interior Ministry people are joining us here. We’ll take the van up to Casa, perhaps spend the night there, and return to Marrakech as soon as possible.’
‘You look worried... is there something...?’ Pero asked.
Toni sighed. ‘No no, it’s just when everything goes so well I have learned suddenly things can go horribly wrong.’
Pero smiled sadly and quoted an old Arab saying: ‘One is prepared for the serpent, but never expects the scorpion.’
Toni looked resigned. ‘Yes, exactly... but I’m always expecting the scorpion... that’s my problem...’
‘What could go wrong now?’ Pero said, ‘don’t worry... we have all the evidence... and yesterday this man Zouheir confessed.
‘You know as well as I do,’ she scolded, ‘He has confessed, or so we’ve been told... but to whom, the Marrakech police? That could mean more problems. And just before you arrived Omar’s brother, the spy Mahjoub, called me with the news that Zouheir was found dead last night in the false Youssef’s apartment.’
‘Yes, dead... murdered! He said the police were claiming Youssef must have done it, but of course, it could have been the police themselves. More over he said Youssef has vanished without a trace. Really, they’re such tricksters one can’t believe a word they say!’
‘But Youssef, they were supposed to be...’
‘Watching him, I know, but he has vanished... did not use his car either… Really! And they've detained Madame Saadi … house arrest. Her family is so important they would never dare put her in jail, but I’m wondering what evidence they might have against her? Nobody seems to know. My worry is the people who must be backing our false Youssef, all those foreign companies, will now be offering very meaningful incentives... especially if by some remote chance his DNA should match that of Minna’s. But now he’s gone,' she shrugged, 'and we don’t have a sample and ... anyway, my dear Prospero, you know as well as I do the government here can do anything it chooses... you know that. The King is a descendant of the Prophet... Prince of Islam... So forget about evidence…What he says happens!’
On the drive to Casablanca with Pero, the legal team, and the two men from the Ministere d’Interieur, one of the MI men received a call on his cell phone and Toni sensed more trouble. The MI man talked rapidly then clicked off, an expression of disgust mingled with irony lingering on his face ‘The one they call Amran who worked in the department of Records at Fez and according to your tape changed all the documents concerning Moulay and Youssef? Well, he has just now been found dead, of poison in a hotel room in Tangier. Either he took it himself or some one gave it to him... nobody seems to know.’
‘Does that make our case stronger or weaker?’ Toni asked.
The MI man sighed and smiled enigmatically.
In Casablanca they stopped for lunch and by three o'clock that afternoon arrived at a crumbling Corbusier-like structure which housed the government psychiatric facility.
‘Council Flat Modern,’ Toni muttered as they entered the reception hall, ‘You’d think as his father left a trust to support and care for him he’d be kept more comfortably than this... see how run down it all looks. And not really that clean either.’
‘You must be joking,’ Pero replied, ‘this is luxurious... I mean for a government run place. You should see the facility in Fez where they were keeping him!’
‘But he should be able to afford a private hospital... shouldn’t he?’
‘You’re forgetting... the trust which was set up to care for him, was for Youssef. Here, officially, we have Moulay.’
‘Of course, how stupid of me… So this is a charity hospital?’
‘Charity, Government, it is all the same, Moslem charities: Habus. Really, it's not that bad. The people who work here are very compassionate.’
‘You’ve been here before then...’
‘Radouan and I had a friend in here, Abel... classmate of ours at university who went on to get a Doctorate d’ Philosophie in France. But when he got his degree there and returned to Morocco he couldn’t afford to pay the bribe here to get a teaching position and went crazy, took to the streets and landed up here in this place. Then we began to see him in Marrakech begging for dirhams, for food and last January he died on the street. Maybe Radouan has mentioned him to you. They were good friends.’
‘How ghastly,’ Toni shook her head, ‘They should set up an agency to investigate these things. I mean people demanding money to employ teachers... really! That’s insane.’
‘They could,’ Pero laughed, ‘if they could find someone honest enough to run it. But they would never find such a person, because the government encourages a system which keeps power in the hands of the powerful... we should have a system based on merit, otherwise our country will always be a client of powerful foreign nations.’
In the reception hall the Director, who bowed nervously at everyone and tried to kiss Toni’s hand, met them.
‘If you do not mind,’ Toni addressed the MI men and the Director, ‘would it be possible for me to see the patient first alone? As you may know the Baroness was an old friend of mine and if this person is her son I think I’ll know ... but I must be alone with him for a few minutes... do you mind?’
They deferred to her and the Director introduced her to a fat but very sweet head nurse, who conducted her down a long corridor past identical metal doors with small windows of reinforced glass. Soon they stopped; the nurse peeped in one of them and unlocked a door. ‘Moulay, it’s me, habibi,’ she said quietly, ‘Moulay? I am bringing someone to see you... a nice lady... I want you to be good.’
She opened the door slightly. Toni glimpsed the patient pacing back and forth and noticed a track he seemed to have worn in the plastic grass floor covering. At one end, there was a cot and chair, at the other a small television on a crude wooden table. The television was turned to a sports channel. The patient paced up and down, robot-like, staring straight ahead out of dead eyes, mumbling to himself.
‘There’s always a game somewhere,’ the nurse sighed, ‘seems to calm him down... otherwise he can get violent and, of course, he has no control over his bowels. That’s why he has his own toilet.’ She pointed proudly to a small room with a washbowl and squat toilet.
Although a human wreck seemed to move before her Toni sensed at once that here, indeed, was Minna’s son. How awful, she thought, how very sad!’ Moreover, the person who had done this deed had lunched with her just a fortnight ago; it made her ill. However, there was no doubt: his face was Minna’s face: the same high cheekbones and forehead, same large deep-set eyes, but green not blue like Minna’s; and although the chin was rounder, the skin darker, the resemblance was uncanny. And while the false Youssef’s hair was black and woolly; this man’s hair was dark chestnut and straight; no one who had known her could fail to recognize that he was Minna’s son, and handsome too, had he not had that brain-dead look about him.
‘Does he ever communicate with you?’ Toni asked the nurse.
‘Oh he grunts and groans.’ she replied, ‘sometimes he manages to curse me. He has much kalak, anger locked up inside him.’
‘Does he ever speak of himself by name, ever mention the name Youssef?’
The nurse looked surprised. ‘Why yes, all the time.’ she said, ‘It’s like he’s talking to a person he calls Youssef but I think it’s himself he’s talking too.’
‘What happens when you call him Moulay?’
‘Sometimes he stares at me and his eyes they bulge. At those times he can get violent. But I have this beeper; everyone who comes in here has to have one... he’s very strong from all the walking he does, and late at night he exercises too, mostly push ups and the like.’
Later after viewing the patient through the small window in the door, one of the MI men instructed the hospital Director to have a tissue sample taken and sent to the lab in Rabat for a DNA test.
Toni asked the Director if he thought the patient would ever recover.
‘If it is really a case of poisoning with Ch’dak J'mel then, of course, he really isn’t a mental case, is he?’ said the Director cheerily, thinking he had made a joke. But no one laughed ‘He was sent here from Fez as a mental case, psychotic, schizophrenic. He hasn’t been with us that long. We were told he had a history of alcohol and drug abuse but Ch’dak J’mel was never mentioned. Now that you say so, I see many of his symptoms agree with the effects of that plant... in my experience they are easily confused with severe alcohol poisoning... attacking the brain in the same way... cutting off the oxygen... really this Ch’dak J’mel is a problem. It grows everywhere and is sold in all the souks... also Belladonna, and Mandrake. Many people here are addicted to maji, and really, it is not maji at all but poisoning they do. In severe cases like this the effects of Ch’dak J'mel are probably irreversible.’
‘If we were to take him out of here,’ Toni smiled brightly, ‘I have a place in the country outside Marrakech. If we could bring him there I’m sure he might improve... a more interesting environment might... Inch Allah, we never know... it might wake up his brain.’
The hospital Director looked grim. ‘Unless you induce vomiting in the first few hours, the effects of Ch’dak J’mel are thought to be permanent... You can take him, certainly, we would have no objection to that... he is a charity case so the money we are spending on him here... well... we have many other cases waiting. Really, sometimes I wonder what is happening... it seems these days; half the people walking our streets are mental cases. Our culture, our customs... they are disintegrating...’
Toni addressed the men from the Ministere d’Interieur, ‘would you have any objection to my taking him to Marrakech? I mean, when this is all over. I am absolutely sure he’s the Baroness’ son. Your DNA test will prove it, I know.’
‘None at all, Madame.’
Toni nodded thoughtfully. ‘And now we must consider what the law here says about such a case. My husband Radouan has, as you know, been designated by the Baroness in her Testament as her sole heir. But now if this man Moulay is really Youssef her son... who is the heir?’
‘If she has named your husband as her heir, he is the inheritor, nothing can change that,’ said one of the MI men. ‘But the government would probably like to see enough money set aside in a trust to take care of this poor man. They would want him to be independent of both you and your husband. Forgive me, but these days people die suddenly in plane crashes and what not... Inchallah... we never know. If he is her son and the son of the Patron, a Cherif from one of our oldest Moroccan families, we must see that he is protected and able to live comfortably for the remainder of his life; on his death that trust could return to your husband or his heirs.’
‘When is my husband due to go before the Court of Appeals in Marrakech?’ Toni asked. ‘I’ve forgotten.’
‘Next week, on Tuesday’
She looked surprised. ‘Next week on Tuesday! So soon? Will you be on hand?’
‘Yes, Madame, Inch Allah.’
‘Can you give us any idea what position the government will take?’
The official paused, looked at his partner and said: ‘a man, one Zouheir, has confessed to murdering the Baroness. We hear he signed a confession with the Marrakech police, but they haven’t spoken about it to us or anyone else. They have also detained the Notaire, Madame Saadi in her house for what reason we do not know. We hear she has admitted to hiring the man Zouheir, but that’s not certain. And now he is dead.’
‘Who’s dead?’ Toni said feigning surprise; not mentioning that Omar’s brother Mahjoub had called her that morning with the news.
‘We thought you must know. The server Zouheir, he was found dead last night in the apartment of the man whom you call the false Youssef... but this Youssef is very tricky and he has disappeared... totally. We are looking for him and we have notified Interpol to watch out for him. However, I can tell you we ourselves view your husband's case very favorably. Of course, as you must know, we do not have the final say in this matter...’
The Interior Ministry men departed for Rabat and Toni and Pero flew back to Marrakech. On the plane, Toni asked him the meaning of what the MI man had said. ‘We do not have the final word?’
Pero nodded his head thoughtfully, ‘It means they will advise their boss and the government that Radouan is innocent. Moreover those fellows camped in the Mamounia representing the companies the Baroness controlled... I’ve heard from a reliable source they are offering to build factories here, push for tariff considerations in Europe for Moroccan products, and of course large off shore accounts for every one who helps them.’
He smiled at her affectionately, ‘On the other hand, on our side we have you. That Radouan is married to the daughter of English notables... this appeals very much to our notables... and that you are a long time resident of Morocco, as well... that is very important! If Radouan inherits the Baroness’ fortune, he will be one of the world’s richest men. Of course, you will make your home here in the South... initiate many projects, create jobs, and give generously to charities... won’t you?’ Pero tossed his head back, stared at her and smiled broadly. ‘They would be dealing directly with you and Radouan, not with the faceless officials of corporations whom they do not trust... and most important, although there is no proof that Radouan didn’t kill Baroness Minna, this man Zouheir confessed and that’s enough... Inch Allah... and now he's dead... which is convenient for every one concerned.’
Toni frowned. ‘How can you say there is no proof Radouan didn’t murder Minna? What about the two servants at the gate who saw him leave around eleven that night... and what about Radouan’s orphan and the maid who saw Zouheir enter Minna’s bedroom shortly after that... and what about me? He was with me in Marrakech from midnight on.’
‘Believe me there is no proof!’ Pero replied seriously, ‘We, you and I, we know he didn’t do it... but here in the Maghreb you must always remember nothing is settled until it is settled... and I can tell you that testimony of servants is not taken very seriously. Now all that remains is to catch the false Youssef and slit his throat.’
‘What did you arrange about our real Youssef? When will he be brought over from Casa?’ Toni asked.
‘In a few days they will bring him over to the Psychiatric Facility in a special van. At the proper moment I intend to bring him into court and parade him before the judges...’
Toni shrugged doubtfully. ‘Really you’re not...’
‘Yes I am... after playing Gamal’s tape, I will bring the real Youssef in before the judges,’ Pero grinned eagerly ‘... You will see. You don’t really understand the culture here or the legal system ... it’s very complicated... perhaps it’s more compassionate, more human. It does not really recognize your kind of logic, which comes out of Roman law, which it finds simplistic and barbarous. It favors closure; a consensus which arises from the interplay between the unalterable utterances of Mohamed, who was after all Gods messenger, and the raw emotions of the prosecutors and defendants: a drama which reveals the true nature of things... crazy logic you might call it... very antique, but that’s what will convince the judges as well as the government. However even if we resort to dramaturgy, it is very important we are seen to win this case on its merits... otherwise you’ll be paying off for the rest of your lives. The judges must see and hear for themselves... Believe me I know what I’m doing.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006