At the Prefecture they got out and walked. Two sleepy guards saluted, then asked for cigarettes, and they proceeded on riad Zitoun past Derb Narcous. Then Toni turned left into the maze of lanes between Zitoun Jdid and Zitoun Kdim, left then right, then left again and stopped before a massive door set in a high buff colored windowless wall.
Delphine, in five-inch heels not meant for navigating the Medina, was breathless. Inserting a large bronze key in the lock Toni turned it and from the other side came the ominous growls and whines of several dogs, then the hoarse cry of the guardian warning her not to open the door.
‘D’accord, bien, bien, c’est moi, Madame Antonia.’
Finally the door swung open and an old man, his face lost in the folds of his jallaba salaamed them into a dimly lit foyer where now securely tied, three magnificent Salukis growled and fawned. Lights went on as they proceeded through carved stone passageways to a spacious courtyard where a large obsidian pool reflected three stories of carved white marble arches, rising on all sides before walls of cream colored tadelakt.
As they stood listening to the water splashing in the pool from a large scallop shell fountain, Nick admired the fine Saadian carving, the old cedar wood ceilings of the rooms surrounding the courtyard and the magnificent mosaic work of the floors.
Having seen it all before, Radouan paced impatiently around the courtyard while Francesco and Delphine and Pero oohed and ahhed approvingly.
‘So, what is this place? Who lives here?’ Radouan said at last.
‘No one lives here,’ Toni said.
‘It’s one of my... I bought it on a whim years ago for a few thousand dirhams ... been restoring it little by little. Now it’s finished.’
‘The shape of the arches... Grenada... when was it built? Pero asked.
‘Eighteenth century...’ Toni replied, ‘... rather late for Marrakech... but the craftsmen’s style was fourteenth century...’
Bewildered, Radouan studied her face. ‘So we’ve known each other all these years,’ he said finally, ‘and now we’re married, and all this time you’ve never told me, never spoken of this place. How many other hideouts do you have...?’
‘Not too many, ‘Toni smiled slyly, ‘I’m sure you have a few of them your self.’
‘You have more than one then...’
‘Yes, I do have others, habibi, it’s like a hobby... takes my mind off my problems... like when you disappear for days... I mean, fixing them up and then selling them... mostly to friends. My father was not a generous man, you know; before he died I had to make ends meet. Rupert was also famously extravagant.’
‘No,’ Radouan said icily, ‘it’s where you take people like that fellah Lahcen...’
‘Lahcen is dead... or didn’t you know?’
A terrifying look, a kind of empty expression, spread across Radouan’s face as though some ancient being had suddenly materialized inside him. Toni stared hard at him.
‘I know, I know,’ he replied, fighting for control, his eyes averted, ‘So... where’s Delphine’s present? We came here... didn’t we come here to see that? Look how she’s waiting there patiently… she loves presents… like food for her.’
Toni looked up at the architecture, and gestured.
‘Wavin’ your arms like that,’ he asked impatiently. ‘What does it mean?’
She smiled hopefully at Delphine. ‘This... this place is the present. Six bedroom suites each with its own hamam and with a staff of five... you’ll be well taken care of I’m sure. Basically, darling, I think it’s important for you to have a place of your own here in Marrakech where you can feel at home ... hide from the press and your future fans and stalkers who will certainly get lost trying to find you here...’
Delphine gazed at Toni. Tears ran down her cheeks. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she whispered... ‘It's too much... really I don’t think I can...’
‘Rien... rien du tout,’ Toni said nervously, ‘don’t be shy... I can see you’re slightly overwhelmed, but don't be. Really, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather give it to... the perfect setting for your future... I can hear the gossips now... "You know she has a hideaway down there in Marrakech and a handsome Moroccan lover.” The columnists will love it!’
Impulsively, Radouan picked up Delphine, waded across the reflecting pool and lifted her into the shell shaped basin of the fountain; the spray spurting up between her legs and wetting her chiffon caftan until it clung to her body. Every one applauded. ‘The owner of the house!’ Radouan roared, ‘what a zouk! ’
‘Ma e possible che pensi solo culo?’ Francesco shouted.
‘Not when I can help it,’ Radouan yelled over the sound of the water.
‘You’re awful,’ Toni cried, ‘I thought you’d reformed!’
‘In the jail I DEFORMED. Because everything there is so horrible you feel deprived so you try to think of all the great moments of your life... ‘Cause you realize life is... that it is made up of moments like this... Anyway, Marrakchi woman, she likes her ass admired, what do you think?’
‘I think... you’re still drunk?’ Toni shouted.
‘Of course... after five bottles of Champagne what you think?’
‘Ah yes this moment!’ Francesco exclaimed, ‘... fabulous... her legs, her thighs, those high heels... all that running water and her innocent expression as she struggles in his arms… outrageous!’
Radouan helped Delphine down from the fountain. She staggered across the pool and gave Toni a wet embrace. ‘I can’t believe it...’ she whispered breathlessly, ‘how can I ever thank you?’
‘By helping me take care of this lunatic when I’m too old to do it,’ Toni whispered back… ‘By helping me take care of him now; look at him there sitting on the edge of that shell... Do you agree?’
‘Of course! Yes!’... Delphine replied conspiratorially, ‘we will supervise him closely.’
Radouan splashed across the pool, lifted Toni up and carried her out to the fountain. Soon Nick, Francesco, Delphine and finally Prospero were all in the pool splashing each other.
‘I saw you whispering to her,’ Radouan said under his breath. ‘What were you sayin’?’
‘Making sure she won’t divorce you,’ Toni laughed. ‘If she divorces you, she must return this place to me. It’s in the deed I’ve drawn up.’
‘And she’s agreed?’
‘Of course. You think she’d let a place like this slip through her fingers?’
Radouan pushed her away. ‘Fuck you off... what you’re sayin’ is she doesn’t want me, she wants this place!’
‘Not at all,’ Toni whispered, ‘It’s just an incentive for her to live through some of your darker moments...’
‘Like reshwa, I suppose.’
‘Yes, a bribe is one kind of incentive... like a low interest loan from the bank.’
‘What darker moments? What does that mean?’
‘When you lose it and go crazy, darling.’
‘Me, I don’t go crazy... You just think that but I always know exactly what I’m doing.’
‘And deny everything afterwards...’
‘Sometimes I forget...’ Radouan said stubbornly.
‘That’s what I mean... I’m saying if one can manage to live through those moments when you forget yourself... those truly awful moments that can last for days... then your other side, your tender side, comes through...’
‘OK... I like you so I have to torture you...’
‘What did you say?’
‘What, what?’ he laughed maniacally ‘I like you so I have to provoke you. If I didn’t like you, believe me I wouldn’t waste my time.’
‘You like me, you don’t love me...’
‘LIKE? Yes, Oheepouka, like is better than LUV... who knows what LUV is all about? But LIKE, it means sweetness, tenderness.’
Toni pouted, ‘You’re not exactly tender when you go crazy, darling you are mean.’
‘I’m not mean.’
‘I don't mean miserly, I mean brutal... you know very well what I’m saying...’
He blinked his eyes. ‘Why are you starin’ at me like that?’
‘Sometimes you seem like a stranger to me. I want you to tell me about Lahcen... promise you will do something... I know you can find out who killed him if you want to.’
‘I was in jail at the time, remember? Stop thinkin’ about him. Lahcen has surrendered to the Angels of Allah... you want to spoil this whole evening’? He was nothin’... now he’s less than nothing.’
‘I want an investigation...’
‘Iwanna, Iwanna... jus' like Francesco...’ Radouan was beginning to lose it. ‘Lahcen is gone. Somebody killed him... probably over money. Forget him.’
The old guardian stood in the shadows, looking on disdainfully. ‘No problem, Ali,’ Toni shouted... ‘Il fait tres chaud... makayn mouchkil... Il y a peux-tu me ramener, s’il vous plait?’
As they splashed about in the pool, Delphine’s laughter echoed through the building. ‘How will we ever get into the Mamounia looking like this?' she warbled.’
‘We’ll just walk in wet...’ Francesco shouted, ‘nothing surprises those people, especially as you’re with me.’ He smiled at her knowingly. ‘I liked you up there in the fountain... a new Venus... Yes, this place, it could be the setting for your next film... it inspires me... French model in Marrakech meets Arab Casanova... culture clash... fights... Passionate red evenings...’
‘How would it end?’
‘End? What an odd thing to ask, my dear, you’re always surprising me... who knows? One never knows the end until it happens but we need a happy one.’
Delphine smiled cynically, and glanced over at Radouan in Toni’s arms. ‘Just look at him over there with her.’
‘La Pieta,’ Francesco nodded, ‘... mother and child... sometimes he’s a baby, then suddenly he’s a monster.’
‘Sometimes he’s his mother's lover.
Francesco winced. ‘It’s an underground tradition here.
Delphine splashed him. ‘Yes, very FAR under...’
He splashed her back. ‘Look, Toni’s given you this place... so be happy... you’re going to be a big star and you have a handsome mysterious husband who is suddenly as rich as Croesus.’
Delphine stared at him suspiciously, ‘How rich?’
‘Very very rich, my dear... and you are his wife!’
‘You mean I’m one of them.’
‘Believe me, there is enough for a hundred wives.’
‘I suppose we’ll have to show up for his wedding to that child then...’
‘But, of course,’ Francesco smiled indulgently. ‘You’ve never been to a Moroccan wedding - like your wedding to Radouan in Italia, only much crazier... you will enjoy the madness. We’ll take a day or two off and come down.’
The old guardian returned with fresh glasses and more bottles of iced champagne. They all toasted each other and cavorted in the reflecting pool, but when the first light of dawn appeared and it was time to leave, suddenly they discovered Radouan had gone missing.
How cruel, Toni reflected sadly. Angry with me for even mentioning poor Lahcen... Had nothing changed... yes, nothing and EVERYTHING! They searched the building but he’d vanished. ‘Over the roof tops, no doubt,’ she said hopelessly, ‘I’m sure he knows them by heart.’
Prospero felt her pain and was furious with Radouan; longed to drive her home and make love to her, but decided against it.
Then Toni suggested Delphine and Francesco should take Radouan’s car and leave it at the Mamounia and she and Pero would see Nick home and tuck him in.
They drove in silence to Bab Taghzout, punctuated by groans and bursts of song from the back seat. At the car park they steered a wobbly Nick down the narrow derbs to Pero’s riad where they managed to get him in bed and he passed out.
Alone in the riad’s scented garden, suddenly Toni felt something momentous was about to happen, an irrational feeling she tried to dismiss by inspecting the vegetation. As she paused at an unusual night blooming plant, Pero slowly took her in his arms and embraced her. She looked up at him, their eyes fused; he kissed her cheeks fondly, then her eyes and finally her lips. She burst into tears and cried on his shoulder, then tried to think of something to say to break the spell, but gave up and abandoned herself to the moment, to Pero and the moonlight filtering through the ancient cypress trees.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006