Anticipating the arrival of the Public Prosecutor and the Cadi, (Chief Justice of the Appeals Court), three advisory judges had filed in and taken their seats as the clerk called for order and officers patrolled the aisles telling people to shut up. Finally, the Public Prosecutor and the Cadi arrived and everyone stood as they took their seats and the clerk of the court began reading the names of witnesses who must come forward, identify themselves and stand by to be called by either side at any time.
First A’hmed, the Baroness’ old servant, shuffled down the aisle, recited his name and Identity Card number. Then two other servants Dulla and Rhaman came forward followed by the orphan Mokhtar, who cast a worried glance at Radouan, and the maid, Fatima, who was with Mokhtar when they saw Zouheir entering and leaving the Baroness’ bed chamber. Then Prospero and Toni, Madame Aicha Saadi and finally Radouan all stepped up to the stand and recited their particulars.
The Public Prosecutor then called the servant A’hmed back and asked him to tell the tribunal what he had happened that fateful morning. A’hmed, was a dour old man with a long nose, weathered face and watery eyes. Wearing a brown and white striped jalaba, he spoke in measured tones, saying that just before dawn on the day in question he had been awakened by something, looked out the window of his room and had clearly seen Radouan open the main gate himself and drive off. At the time he didn’t think it unusual because for many years Radouan had spent nights at the Ksar and left at dawn. But when Zouheir came running to him a few minutes later saying he had just taken tea up to the Baroness and found her dead, her body still warm, naturally his mind went to Radouan, thinking he must have done it.
‘They often fought,’ A’hmed told the court, ‘and sometimes he would knock her. Of course, there were many days and months of tranquility between them, but then he would forget and begin treating her like a Moroccan wife and there would be big problems!’
‘How often would you say these “problems” occurred?’ The Public Prosecutor asked.
‘Not so often, maybe four times a year, that’s all... but big fights!’
‘After Zouheir told you he’d found the Baroness dead in her bed, what did you do then?’
‘Well, I went up to look at her, of course, and to see if her heart was still beating... it was not beating.’
‘Was her body still warm?’
‘I can’t remember, I was too upset... maybe it was warm but it had been a hot night so maybe it was cold.’
‘What did you do next?’
‘Well, I called Madame Saadi because I wanted her advice on what I should do. The Baroness had always told me in case of emergency to call Madame Saadi first. So Madame Saadi, she called the police and drove out immediately with many high officials. They examined everything and took the Baroness’s body away to Marrakech. That’s how things happened.’
Then Prospero requested permission to question A’hmed and asked him whether he would recognize the man from Fez who called himself Youssef Idrisi.
‘Of course... yes I would... but only as Youssef... I didn’t know he was Idrisi. He has been to Dar Chems a few times in the past months.’
‘So you know him?’
‘Yes, of course...’
‘And you hired Zouheir on this Youssef’s recommendation... he asked you to hire him?’
‘Yes he did... and I hired him. We needed someone to serve, one of our servers had just died, and one day I asked Youssef in a casual way if he knew of anybody who could take the job to let me know. Being from Fez, I thought he might know of a really good server.’
‘In fact, he paid you a large sum of money for taking on this man...’ Pero declared.
‘Not a large sum, Sir, not large at all, only the usual commission for hiring someone, that’s all.’
‘But you took money for it.’
‘Yes... but I also received money from Radouan for hiring the boy Mokhtar for the garden... it’s customary’
‘My information is that the Baroness herself was the one who told you to hire Mokhtar...’
‘That is correct, Sir... but still Radouan, he gave me my commission... a few hundred dirhams, that’s all... life is expensive these days, sir.’
‘And did the Baroness enjoy these visits from this person, Youssef?’
‘The first time the Baroness met him, Madame Saadi had brought him out. The Baroness seemed very interested... but after that, although he came many times, she did not want to receive him. She would have me say she was not feeling well, or was not at home... he may have seen her once or twice alone but that’s all... she was not well, Sir... seeing him tired her.’
‘To your knowledge did Radouan know this Youssef had visited the Baroness?’ Pero asked.
‘They were never there at the same time.’ A’hmed replied. ‘What Radouan might have found out on his own I do not know...’
‘In fact you dislike Radouan, admit it... you have always been jealous of him.’
‘I have always thought he was a very hard young man, Sir, always telling everyone what to do... ordering us all around... hard and mean he was to us but I wasn’t jealous of him. Why would I be?’
Prospero thanked A’hmed and called the two servants, Dulla and Rhaman who contradicted A’hmed’s testimony and testified the last time they saw Radouan was the evening before the Baroness’ dead body was discovered, about eleven p.m. They let him out of the front gate and he drove away.
‘Would you have known if he had come back during the night and left the next morning at dawn?’ asked the Public Prosecutor.
‘Of course we would,’ replied Dulla, ‘we are gardeners but we keep the gate at night and patrol the grounds with our dogs Radouan did not spend the night. A’hmed is old. He is imagining all these things because he received a large amount of money from the Fassi, Youssef for saying he saw Radouan leave at dawn.’
‘Was this Youssef at the Baroness’ place after she died?’
‘Yes, that morning with Madame Saadi and the police.’
‘Don’t believe him, he’s lying!’ A‘hmed waved his stick and shouted from his seat, ‘these fellows are lazy and stupid... half the time they are asleep inside the gate house and people have to let themselves in and out.’
Pero addressed Dulla, ‘How do you happen to know A’hmed received a large amount of money from Youssef for saying he saw Radouan leave at dawn?’
‘We saw it happen. We were working, Rhaman and me... the police had questioned us and we were back at work trimming some old cypress trees. Mohktar was with us. A’hmed came into the next garden with this Youssef... so we stopped working and listened... they were negotiating... Ahmed kept saying not enough, not enough ... finally this fellow Youssef, he handed him a large bundle of two hundred dirham notes... We knew they were two hundred dirham notes because they were blue. From our position in the tree we saw him count out at least two bricks which A’hmed hid beneath his jallaba...’
‘Lies, all lies!’ yelled A’hmed, ‘...these donkeys, they have invented all these things because I am higher than them and they are jealous and resent taking orders from me... now they are trying to fix me... I swear it.’
Finally, A’hmed was cajoled into shutting up, sat down quietly and Pero called Mokhtar and Fatima the maid, who testified they had seen Zouheir enter the Baroness’ bed chamber around midnight just after Radouan had left.
After they told their story they were cross-examined by the Public Prosecutor. ‘Why were you two... how did you happen to be in that upstairs closet?’ he asked Mokhtar.
Mokhtar rolled his eyes and said shyly: ‘we were making love, Sir, it was one of the few places we could be alone together.’
Snickers and suppressed laughter swept the courtroom. The Public prosecutor was embarrassed, immediately excused Mokhtar and the maid and called Madame Saadi to the stand.
Rising slowly like some aquatic creature surfacing from the deep, Madame Saadi, draped in a dark wet looking synthetic fabric, waddled down the aisle on three-inch heels; her enormous buttocks rolling, her large tuberous face surrounded by masses of new faux hair, huge eyes blinking, her bulbous nose and full lips set in a determined smile.
Many of the older men in the room seemed attracted to her.
‘Ugly, but sexy,’ Pero muttered.
Toni suppressed a laugh, and choked.
Prompted by the Public Prosecutor, Madame Saadi spoke at length about her long and close relationship with the Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck and other prominent foreign residents of Marrakech. How her father, a former Public Prosecutor, had known the Baroness since she was a girl of sixteen; that the Baroness was like a member of their family. Drawing on these close familial ties she went on to observe that the Testament she drew up for the Baroness naming the defendant Radouan as the beneficiary had to have been coerced out of her.
‘Everyone knows this is the typical game of Marrakchi's gigolos,’ she said sarcastically. As the Baroness' Notaire she had tried to dissuade the Baroness from making such a mistake but she would not listen. ‘She was hopelessly in love with him, poor thing... it's a shame! A headstrong woman... it was impossible to change her mind.’
Madame Saadi waited for this to sink in and then went on to explain the reason the Baroness was murdered was that Youssef, her long lost son, had appeared and Radouan had assumed she would be making a new Testament in his favor. ‘Perhaps they fought about this,’ she declared, ‘and in a jealous rage he killed her!’
Despite this diatribe and Prospero’s objections that it was all pure conjecture on her part, Madame Saadi’s professional smile never changed.
When she was finally finished, Prospero himself was called to the stand. The Public Prosecutor questioned his experience in grave matters of this sort and Pero replied with passion that although he was inexperienced that did not mean he could not get at the truth. He went on to recount the history of his relationship with Radouan and gave a strong defense of his client’s character, which surprised those present who knew he was Jewish. Then he pointed out that Radouan had been a devoted friend of the Baroness for over twenty years, and challenged the veracity of Madame Saadi’s remarks:
‘Everyone knows she’s been having an affair with this Youssef Idrisi,’ he said provocatively.
Saadi’s friends and supporters in the courtroom jeered and shouted at him. When order was finally restored, Pero addressed himself directly to the Public Prosecutor and asked whether he was aware of a confession signed by the afore mentioned server Zouheir, that he had suffocated the Baroness with a pillow shortly after Radouan left the house that evening. And, did he know that a tape recording existed of a conversation between Zouheir and the person who called himself Youssef Idrisi, over more money for a job well done?
The two questions hung in the air like balloons waiting to burst. There was astonishment and consternation in the courtroom as the Public Prosecutor nervously consulted his team and the Advisory Judges. Cries of “don’t listen to him,” and “get on with it,” rose above the general tumult. Finally one of the Advisory Judges asked the Public Prosecutor if he knew of the existence of such evidence and the Public Prosecutor replied that he had heard rumors, but had not seen or heard any hard evidence.
Pero then requested the court be recessed for a half hour until he could arrange to play this tape, in which Madame Saadi was mentioned and a second tape concerning the Baroness’ long lost son Youssef. The Cadi, granted this request and the courtroom erupted in a collective growl as Saadi’s supporters, cell phones beeping dashed outside.
‘Round one,’ Pero whispered and called Omar on his cell phone who informed him there had been a change of plans. The Marrakech police were willing to give up both the tape and the confession but were insisting on delivering these two items to the court themselves whenever he gave the word.
‘Tell them to bring them over immediately,’ Pero clicked off, turned back to Toni and smiled. ‘As you see, I’m having to change my tactics. First, we’ll have the confession... maybe the Ministere d’Interieur has put pressure on them. Anyway they will give that excuse... then the tape.’
‘At last!’ Toni sighed, ‘but what about our real Youssef? When do you plan to produce him - if at all?’
‘He’s in the Psychiatric Facility right now, waiting. Omar’s brother says the police are ready to escort him here whenever we give the signal. I have a number to call. We’ll just have to see what happens. I thought just before I started playing the Gamal tape I would call. What do you think? He would arrive just as the tape is ending...’
Toni rolled her eyes, ‘Sounds good... but tell me, why they are suddenly being so cooperative... I mean the Police? I thought you said they would deliver this tape and the confession to the highest bidder? It’s quite unlike them to do anything without first getting paid... I know you said they think I’m reliable but... have we reached some kind of agreement with them...?’
‘I’m afraid I’ve committed you to something rather big...’ Pero smiled, ‘you won’t believe it, but Omar’s brother Mahjoub... I gave him permission to tell them that you and Radouan would become the Patrons of their football team. You’ll have to feed and clothe them; pay for the trainer, transportation... everything! It’s an important team and it will be expensive, but…’
Toni grinned with delight, ‘How brilliant really, what a perfect solution... I love it. We’ll have our very own team – all police!’
‘I thought you’d see it that way,’ Pero said with relief, ‘...and they’re excited about it too. Money would just cause problems; it’s the human touch they want. Those big companies, no matter how much they offer, they don’t have that.’
Toni leaned over and whispered in Radouan’s ear. ‘We’ve won, my darling... I think we’ve won... the other side is caving in. Did you hear what Pero just said about us sponsoring their football team...?’
‘Not until I’m out of here we haven’t won,’ Radouan said with great effort and slumped down in his seat again into his own world. ‘Jus’ don’t be fooled,’ he mumbled, ‘Marrakchi police they never give up... when they’re cornered they’re twice as dangerous.’
‘Pretty obvious someone has dosed him with something...’ Pero observed.
Radouan interrupted. ‘They gave me a shot before they brought me here... I’m comin’ out of it, but...’
Pero gazed fondly at him. ‘Can you blame them?’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006