After a short recess the false Youssef was returned to the court where he was deemed strong enough to undergo further questioning.
Prospero addressed him sternly. ‘Let us go back to the subject of Zouheir,’ he said, ‘if you didn’t kill him who did?’
‘I’ve already told you that;’ the false Youssef replied caustically, ‘Edar had the street number but had lost it. Finally they found it. Or this was the excuse he gave for the delay. Then the kid wanted money from Zouheir for bringing him there and Zouheir wouldn’t give it to him. After I gave Zouheir more money, the kid got mad and jumped him. He was bigger than Zouheir. Really, I don’t think the kid killed him... I think Zouheir had a heart attack and when Edar realized what he’d done he bolted.’
‘But on the tape you tell Zouheir you went out to the Baroness’ place... to warn him. What about that?’
‘Yes, I did. I had reason to believe the police were going to torture him so I drove out but there were police at the gate so I hired Edar to bring him back and...’
Pero interrupted him, ‘... and you were preparing to leave when Zouheir arrived...’
‘That’s what Zouheir says on the tape. At that point I hadn’t planned to go anywhere...’
‘But then you did leave. Why?’
‘When I discovered the transmitter, and that it was broken, I knew the police would soon descend on me and I would be blamed for everything.’
‘So you flew to Amsterdam. What were you doing there?’
‘Relaxing... And excuse me... I must... I wish to remind the Cadi … I wish to remind Him again of the portion of the tape which I think has been deleted... it’s very important! Zouheir... he screamed it out as the kid was choking him, “BUT I DIDN’T KILL HER, SOMEONE ELSE HAD ALREADY DONE THE JOB!” I remember this clearly because I was shocked. I was indignant. Zouheir had taken all this money from Saadi and then “SOMEONE ELSE HAD DONE THE JOB.” Gentleman! That SOMEONE... THE SOMEONE is sitting right over there…’ He pointed at Radouan, ‘It is him; her gigolo who has done this thing... what I am saying is that even though we had the idea to do it, he did it first!’
The false Youssef, Moulay sat down and the Public Prosecutor rose and addressed the Cadi. ‘We have some evidence to enter which has just come to light, Your Honors. According to his testimony, Youssef here stated that he and the Baroness were working on a new Will and Testament and that when he decided to leave Marrakech, he burned all those notes, many of which were hand written. We examined his flat very carefully and found that not all the papers in the bathtub had been completely burned. We have now finished examining these notes with the assistance of experts and have found writing other than his, notes in the margins, which we have compared with examples of the Baronesses’ writing and have found to be identical.’
‘We would like permission to examine those scraps of paper with our experts,’ Pero said immediately. ‘The case of Amran who, incidentally, was found poisoned a few weeks ago in Tangier, shows how easy it is in our culture to forge documents, even scraps of documents, and have them attested as genuine... your Honors... And even if those scraps do prove to be hers it doesn’t mean the Baroness had decided to act.’
‘The point is,’ said the Public Prosecutor defiantly, ‘there is a distinct possibility the Baroness was going to change her Testament, and we feel this is important because if Youssef is telling the truth in this, he may be telling it on other points.’
Pero nodded and addressed the judges: ‘I would also like to introduce a new piece of evidence to you, Honorable Gentlemen. Fortunately the body of the Baroness was not buried but lies frozen here in Marrakech. So we have been able to take tissue samples and compare them with tissue samples taken from the real Youssef when he was still in the psychiatric facility at Casablanca. Here is the report, gentlemen. I have made photocopies for all of you. Tissue samples were sent not only to the lab in Rabat, but to Johns Hopkins University in America, and the Currie Institute in Paris... all three have agreed that the DNA of our Youssef matches that of his mother The Baroness Minna Von Schleebruck...’
There were gasps in the chamber and Pero smiled. ‘There is no doubt about it. DNA tests are now standard all over the world... and we have just now taken tissue samples from this man who calls himself Youssef but is really Moulay and sent them to the same labs.’
Pero resumed his seat. Slowly Radouan turned round to him, his words still slurred, and whispered urgently, ‘ I’ve been silent but whatever they gave me is wearin’ off and I have been listening carefully to everything... it’s getting late, soon the judges will adjourn and I’ll be taken back to the jail. This is a most dangerous moment for me because when you think of what’s been said... that tape with Zouheir and Youssef speakin’ about Saadi. Well, you know Saadi’s family and their supporters. Now they will try to find a way to kill me... seriously... once I’m out of the way they reckon you and Toni would not pursue the case and after many postponements when everyone has forgotten the whole thing a decision will quietly be made in their favor. Believe me; I know these people... a small matter of Youssef’s DNA won’t stop them.’
He stared hard at Pero. ‘So this is what you must do right now... you must call Toni to the witness stand, cross examine her briefly and then you, Habibti, mus' speak for some time very favorably, very positively about Saadi. While you are doing this, Pero mus' get on his cell phone and call Madame Saadi’s uncle, the head of their clan. You mus’ tell them that if they remain calm and pursue friendly relations with us we will see they are generously rewarded.’
Toni and Pero glanced at each other.
‘He’s right,’ Pero agreed, ‘can you do it?
‘Of course!’ Toni nodded.
As soon as the Cadi proposed a recess until the following day, Prospero immediately requested permission to call Antonia Uld Billah to the witness stand. As everyone in the room had been waiting for this moment, permission was granted and Toni took the stand.
There was a buzz of approval in the chamber as she spoke in Arabic. Pero led her through the process of identifying herself; a biographical sketch, a recitation of her interests, her residency in Marrakech and her long relationship with Radouan during which she deflated the proposition that Radouan was a gigolo. Finally Pero led her into a monologue of her relationship with Madame Saadi which gave him time to get on his phone and talk with Saadi’s uncle.
‘The most important thing about my relationship with Madame Saadi,’ Toni said, concluding a eulogy she had managed to extend for almost twenty-minutes, ‘is that it has been an extremely stable one. For over twenty years Madame Saadi has been absolutely honest with me and correct in handling my affairs. She sends detailed statements and does not inflate the number of hours she spends working on my behalf.’
Letting this sink in, Toni then gestured helplessly. ‘Gentlemen, Your Honors, I cannot stress how much I hope you will excuse Madame Saadi’s involvement in this affair. I was one of the Baroness’ closest friends and I’m sure the last thing she would have wanted would be that Madame Saadi should suffer. We all face temptation every day; especially we women as we grow older. Certainly this court must take into account the well-known weakness of women in this regard and a brief lapse of judgement on Madame Saadi’s part should not be allowed to blemish an otherwise stainless career!’
Shouts of approval echoed through the chamber; not only for Toni’s support for Madame Saadi, but for her command of the language. Urgent conversations took place among Saadi’s relatives and friends as they immediately sensed that something important had happened behind the scenes.
Madame Saadi smiled on cue and nodded contritely.
Toni resumed, ‘And lastly, gentlemen, I would suggest that compassion be extended to everyone involved in this tragic affair which, after all, was brought about by the actions of the Baroness’ lover, Ali el Idrisi, of Fez.’
While Toni was speaking, Prospero had been talking to Saadi’s uncle, and they had reached an agreement. They wanted the false Youssef, Moulay, jailed as an accomplice to the murder of the Baroness, and were insisting that Madame Saadi be excused. They expected somehow that Toni would be able to arrange all this and that they would be generously rewarded in the future. For this they would insure Radouan’s safety.
The court resumed the process of adjourning for three days and Pero asked that Radouan be temporarily released in the custody of his wife, with guards stationed outside her flat, until the trial resumed. After consulting for some time with the advisory judges the Cadi announced that because Radouan was still officially charged with murder, unfortunately he could not be released in this way, even for three days, and would have to go back to jail.
‘Thanks for your speech, Habibti,’ Radouan whispered over his shoulder, ‘you probably saved my life.’
‘Poor darling, I’m sorry you’re not coming home with me. I’m going to worry terribly about you until Thursday.’
‘Don’t! Makayn mouchkil. I jus' hope they put me back in isolation. It’s not comfortable but it’s better for me ‘cause I don’t get in fights... how’s Nick?
Toni smiled fondly. ‘He’s better. The fright of being in jail... I think it did something... got his brain working again... he seems to be more positive.’
‘And my father and mother, I think I saw them here...’
‘They are in the back of the room, my darling, they are fine. Delphine and Francesco are here at the Mamounia... arrived last night. We’re all waiting for the end of this mess.’
Radouan gazed at her and tilted his chin. ‘And Lahcen, how’s he doing?’
‘Haven’t seen him in ages,’ Toni laughed, ‘So busy saving you I haven’t had time to exercise...’
‘I know you too well, azizati,’ Radouan grinned and shook his finger at her.
‘If you think I would be seeing Lahcen behind your back, you don’t know me at all... even after all this you still don’t trust me...’
‘I trus' you, Habibti, but women are weak...you jus' said it to the Cadi.’ He laughed and turned back to Pero. ‘Tell me, are you okay?’
‘He’s exhausted,’ Toni sighed, ‘Hard work especially when your client is a wild man.’
‘It’s you who are saving my life. Evidence means nothing here without money. It’s costing a lot, I’m sure.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be billing you. You’re going to be far richer than I will ever be...’
‘You know how I hate wastin’ money... I hope you aren’t payin’ too much... you’re not very good at negotiating.’
Toni smiled sympathetically. ‘You must see it as life insurance, habibi. If we want to continue to live around here, you’ll have to learn to be more generous, contribute substantially to social initiatives - that sort of thing! Unless you want to live somewhere else, Argentina, for example... for polo you might want to think of that...’
‘I would hate it. How could I ever leave Marrakech - how? My family: twenty generations of ancestors here, are you kidding’? I’d be leavin’ them all behind. Who would care for their graves here and in R’hamna? It is me who does all that... no one else cares. One thing I will try to do in this country, if I can, is fix up the cemeteries. They look terrible...’
They were interrupted by two police officers that had come to take Radouan back to jail. He had a few words with Pero, Toni embraced him and he was led away. After he had gone Madame Saadi sauntered by, fawned over Toni, thanked her profusely, eyeing Pero nervously and said: ‘It was a wonderful speech she made about me... thank you both so much... Chokran! I will never forget,’ and clutched Toni’s hands and tried to kiss them.
Toni resisted the impulse to jerk them away from her. ‘I know the Baroness would have wanted it this way,’ she replied gently, extricating her fingers from Saadi’s moist lips, ‘I hope I did some good...’
‘I don’t deserve it, but I hope so too...’ Saadi smiled weakly.
‘But you haven’t been charged with anything, my dear, hopefully they’ll just forget about you and nothing will happen.’
‘Inch Allah... Inch Allah...’ Saadi sighed.
‘Yes... well it’s been an exhausting day, hasn’t it?’ Toni said and took Pero’s arm. ‘And now I must go home and rest... I guess we’ll all be here again in three days.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006