The Marrakech Appeals Court convenes in a large building with an Art Deco façade and a dusky interior resembling a nineteen forties airline hanger, – distinctly not user friendly.
In a pleasant residential district nearby, Toni and Prospero have been going over strategies for their first day in court: witnesses to be called, in what order, how they would deal with the public prosecutor, the judges and Madame Saadi.
During the night the temperature had dropped and over breakfast they debated whether to walk to the court, or drive as planned.
‘It’s such a gorgeous day I would adore too walk,’ Toni said brightly, ‘these days driving makes me so nervous... or when I’m nervous, driving makes it worse… but I guess we’d lose face wouldn’t we... arriving on foot?’
Pero smiled attentively and feasted on her green eyes. ‘I’m afraid we would… press photographers, various undercover agents, they’ll all be there waiting to see you, to gaze upon you. Really, you mustn't disappoint them. I’ve asked a friend of mine who owns an agency to drive us in his new stretch limo, which we will inaugurate. As he and his new car will appear in all the journals he’s only too happy to oblige. And you, you must look respectable, like your Queen.’
‘You don’t think I look respectable? Really Prospero,’ Toni chided.
‘You’re always very chic, very sportive but...’
‘Hmm. Oh I see, you want me to look traditional...’
‘Traditional and sexy like Diana. If you have one of those funny big hats you must wear it, and high heels... the French press will hate you if you don’t wear high heels.’
‘Pero! Sometimes you surprise me... where do you get these ideas...?’
‘Television, of course… we watch it all the time, mostly to see what people are wearing. Here in Marrakech, people have always been fashion conscious. Many here are descended from nomadic peoples. All they ever had were their clothes, their jewelry, their camels and their horses so those things became very important. Then the French came and, of course, they were very interested in fashion too... so now our camels have become expensive four by fours and our clothes come from Milan and Paris.’
Toni excused herself, took a quick shower, dressed, brushed out her newly blonde hair, and tied it in a bun. “How’s this?’ she laughed conspiratorially.’ appearing a few minutes later in a long transparent coat over a short skirt revealing her famous legs.
As she sauntered back and forth, Pero clapped his hands. ‘Very good... perfect... just what they’ll expect... now you look like a real Princess or whatever you are...’
‘Now, I’m Madame Antonia al Uld Billah.’ Toni smiled mischievously, ‘I will wear a lavender silk head scarf and these dark glasses too...?’
‘Bring them along for the photographers, but don’t wear them in Court... eye contact is very important here, especially with judges. Gaze at them steadily, keep smiling and remember you are Lady Bountiful come down from heaven to shower their wives and children with Mercedes and BMW convertibles.’
He stared at her adoringly then came to his senses. ‘While you were dressing I had a call from Omar’s brother, Mahjoub. As you know, the Marrakech police have that tape of Zouheir arguing with the false Youssef. The Interior Ministry wants it, but the police here do not want to give it up because it favors Radouan and implicates Madame Saadi. Everyone respects Saadi because her father was a famous judge; she’s part of the Establishment. For them, Radouan is worse than nothing... but they know that tape is worth a lot of money and they want someone to buy it.
‘Won’t it be possible to force them to play it? I mean... if the MI men want it played, they’ll have to... no?’
Pero sighed. ‘They could lose it or erase it by mistake; they could sell it to those corporate freaks staying at the Mamounia. I’m afraid we must negotiate with them very soon. We must have it. If the MI men got hold of it they might also play games... might alter it.’
Toni frowned and lit a cigarette, ‘I’m terribly worried about Radouan, he must be going mad not knowing what’s happened… suddenly they won’t let me visit him and no one will speak to me. I can’t even find the chauffeur Monsieur Larbi.’
‘I’m afraid Monsieur Larbi is hiding from you.’ Pero stared at her helplessly. ‘I haven’t told you this because I didn’t want to upset you. The reason Radouan can’t have visitors is that three days ago, the day we returned from Rabat, they beat him up and put him back in solitary confinement, said he was causing too much trouble driving everybody at the Psychiatric Hospital crazy!’
Toni stared back wide eyed. ‘I can’t believe it... what are they up to?’
‘I don’t know. It’s gone above Larbi, I think... but they’re up to no good... either he made real trouble for them, or they have some purpose in isolating him.’
‘Yes, like killing him! Oh Pero, what shall we do? When he gets upset his first instinct is to fight...’
Prospero nodded. ‘I know. Like Samurais we trained in the same gym... it was hard, very hard... either you were a winner or a loser. Radouan and I and our friend Houcein, we were the winners in our class.’
She stubbed out her cigarette, ‘So he doesn’t know a thing that’s been happening... doesn’t even know if we’ll be in court?’
‘Pero smiled grimly, I’m sure he’s not thinking that far ahead; just concentrating on staying alive... but he has great faith in you, you know that... absolute trust.’
As they arrived at the Appeals Court, their limousine was immediately surrounded by reporters and cameramen all shouting at once. Anticipating such an event, in fact, praying for it, Prospero had engaged four photogenic bodyguards to clear the way as chic smiling Antonia al Ayadi emerged with her handsome young Avocat and they slowly made their way through the crowd to the entrance of the court building.
Inside, the lobby and anterooms were crowded with bored looking law enforcement officials, clerks, Avocats and the Press. They were met by Toni’s legal team who had the Public Prosecutor, in tow. Until a few hours ago, this man thought he was about to administer a coup de couteau that would finish off Radouan forever. Now that he’d been informed of certain facts: the tape of old Gamal detailing the history of the relationship between Moulay and Youssef, and that he had not been informed by the Marrakech police about a tape of the false Youssef speaking with Zouheir. All these new developments had left the Public Prosecutor shaken. Large amounts of money had changed hands with the promise that Radouan would die or be sent away forever. His whole career, possibly his life, depended on Radouan being found guilty.
The courtroom was sufficiently depressing to instill a sense of awe if not horror among the often-rebellious elements of the local population gathered there. Seated on hard wooden benches, those lucky enough to be admitted to the proceedings spoke in hushed tones. Supporters of Madame Saadi whispered loudly to each other, while various expatriate friends of Toni’s and certain Moroccan notables, fanned themselves and read their morning papers. At the rear of the chamber Radouan’s mother, his indigent father, and two of his brothers took their seats.
Then Toni, Prospero and their legal team were led to benches just behind the witness stand in the center of the area facing the elevated dais where the judges would sit. A man whom Toni presumed was the Clerk of the Court walked back and forth in front of them consulting with the Public Prosecutor and his men.
Soon Radouan was led in, hand cuffed and hobbled by leg irons between two husky guards. Toni was horrified. Pale and wan, marks on his neck and forehead, he seemed wrapped in a mysterious aura of solitude and calm that she had never seen before. In some mysterious way that she could not explain to herself, she suddenly knew why Minna had made him her heir.
Seated directly in front of her next to Pero, Radouan did not turn to greet her or even acknowledge he had seen her but stared straight ahead apparently indifferent to his surroundings. She leaned forward and gently pressed his shoulder, ‘habibi, not to worry, we have a strong case. By the end of this day, I promise, you will be a free man.’
He turned and gazed at her reverently, then quizzically, as if she was not quite real. ‘Chokran,’ he murmured wearily, his voice coming from far away.
Glancing around at the grim expressions on the faces in the crowded courtroom, Toni reflected with dismay that maybe he was right to be depressed. Most of the onlookers were not at all moved by the tragedy of Minna’s death, but by jealousy of Radouan. How familiar those tight lips and firm set jaws; so like her nannies, her tutors, even her childhood friends and later an uncle who had tried to ravage her when she was fourteen; all jealous hypocrites. How well she knew that look, felt the monster, its mists and vapors, almost the smell of it.
Fortunately from the beginning she’d had the help of sweet Prospero, the faithful one; but for whom Radouan could have faced disaster. Even so, here in the courtroom, face to face with reality, her certainty that they would win was withering. ‘Never count your money, child, ‘til the check clears the bank.’ The voice of her father calling to her from his grave; Yes, and ‘nothing is settled until it is settled’... Wasn’t that what Pero often said? The companies in which Minna had been a large shareholder would not have been idle, and might have more surprises for them and more influence than they had counted on. Their representatives were seated somewhere behind her. Certainly Radouan would be able to match anything they could propose, but he would have to inherit Minna’s money first! Perhaps Pero was right, a bit of courtroom drama might turn the tide.
A stir in the rear of the chamber heralded the arrival of Madame Saadi entering on the opposite side, her friends nodding, murmuring, Saadi smiling, even waving at Toni. No doubt Saadi was well liked in Marrakech. What she hadn’t counted on, however, was Toni’s marriage to Radouan, never expected that, no one in Marrakech had.
But hadn’t Pero just told her Saadi had been arrested? Why then was she not surrounded by bodyguards?
Toni leaned forward and spoke with Pero in whispers ‘This recording of Zouheir speaking with the false Youssef, what do we know of it?’
‘First we know the Marrakech police have it,’ Pero replied, ‘and are not responding to requests for it, not even admitting officially they made it. No one is allowed to listen to it. But Omar’s brother Mahjoub has heard it and it’s very incriminating for Madame Saadi. Zouheir is asking Youssef for more money and Youssef is telling him to go to Saadi. Certainly Saadi must have known something of Zouheir’s reputation as a dangerous psychopath who hung around Marrakech coffee houses waiting for victims. Every one knows he was responsible for several murders and has extorted and stolen money from many foreigners, but his sister is a highly placed prostitute so nothing has ever happened to him.’
‘I must say, Omar’s brother has been very obliging,’ Toni observed.
‘Omar’s brother is a toppa... rat... all police informers are rats, but he’s a R’hamna and Radouan is R’hamna and Omar is one of Radouan’s oldest friends, like an uncle, so his brother Mahjoub is cooperating with us. But believe me; he will expect to receive some important favors and presents when this is over.’
‘How do we get hold of this tape? We must have it!’
‘Certain police officers who are friendly with Saadi and her large, influential family have it, but no one else knows anything. Sounds unbelievable I know, but even the Police Commissioner and the Public Prosecutor, don’t know what it contains! So this very good for us, good leverage that we know... The MI people are asking the Commissioner to hand it over but he’s saying he has no idea what they’re talking about.’
‘Has Omar’s brother offered them anything?’
‘Money not to destroy it,’ Pero smiled, ‘which is what they really want. The Marrakchi police, they are telling Saadi and her supporters to pay them or they will hand it over to the MI. Omar’s rat brother is negotiating for us at this very moment. You might say it’s an auction. Don’t worry, like all vermin, Mahjoub is very clever... he will get the best deal he can. Even so it could create a huge scandal... the men who give it to us might have to retire... maybe even leave Marrakech. As soon as Mahjoub has it he will give it to Omar who will bring it here and I will play it as evidence for all to hear. You can be sure the Public Prosecutor would never play it unless he was forced to.’
‘Pay as you go, I guess that’s the message,’ Toni sighed wryly. ‘But do we really need it? We know this Zouheir signed a confession with the Marrakech Police. Where’s that?’
‘Avec le meme, of course... they’ve all read it... but to get it presented as evidence will cost additional money, and once presented, it will cost more to have it accepted as evidence...’
Toni giggled under her breath ‘But really this is so crazy... how do we get money when we’re sitting here in court?’
‘You won’t believe this,’ Pero smiled, ‘but they’re actually saying since you’re English they will trust you to pay them later.’
Toni chuckled slyly, ‘Well that’s certainly a mistake isn’t it?’
Pero grinned ‘They’ll deliver, don’t worry. I will begin by playing the tape of old Gamal, and by the time that’s over we should have the one of Youssef and Zouheir. Then just watch the fun. And don’t be fooled by the respectable looks of these people... they’re heartless and ruthless and they admire the fake Youssef because he’s an Avocat and because probably he’s ready to cut a huge deal with everyone if he wins.’
Pero looked around the courtroom wondering when the judges would arrive. ‘And one other very important thing I haven’t told you because I just received word on my cell phone: the DNA of the crazy Youssef matches the DNA of the Baroness... there is a certain margin of error which anyone can contest, but it’s good news... yes?’’
Toni’s face brightened considerably, ‘Well - how fantastic… brilliant! I knew he was Minna’s son... I knew it!’ She lowered her voice again to a whisper. ‘Now I have some news for you. I was waiting to tell you this until they landed... but...’
‘The false Youssef, I’ve had him kidnapped...’
‘Mark the work of the Omnipotent,’ Pero whispered in Arabic, ‘You had him kidnapped? Where?’
‘They found him in Switzerland! You remember my plane was in Frankfurt having a tune up? Well, he’s on that plane right now flying back. I got word this morning around six, they were just taking off... should be arriving here any moment now... they have your phone number and will call.’
‘But who found him... who are they?’
‘Don’t ask. Toni replied with a sphinx like smile, ‘I’ll explain later.’
‘But how will he... what happens when he goes through immigration?’
‘He’s been given a new passport for the moment, British, and he’ll be arriving with two other blokes... very tough, very efficient... on holiday supposedly... golf clubs and all.’
‘What if he’s recognized?’
Toni shrugged casually, ‘If something like that happens, which I very much doubt, my men have instructions to call you and the Ministere d’Interieur gentlemen on their cell phones. The MI men are here, lurking in the back of the chamber. If all works out, we’ll be able to bring this false Youssef right here to the court. I thought you might like to add him to the little drama you’re planning to stage ... what do you think?’
Pero smiled broadly, ‘I’m filled with admiration and I congratulate you... where in Switzerland did...’
‘In Geneva... sh sh sh. Our guess was he was there trying to make a deal, just as you said, with that big food company. I thought it was important to capture him before that happened.’
‘But how did he get from Marrakech to Geneva without...?’
Toni threw up her hands, ‘Who knows. He’s very clever. He may wiggle out of this yet.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006