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In Another Country


ISSUE:  Summer 1987

Thou hast committed
 Fornication: but that was in another country
 And besides, the wench is dead

—Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

On a burning afternoon in April, Inspector Thomas Calhern of the Department of State arrived by train in Marrakech. He was stealing a few days of leave. He had completed a rugged tour of Foreign Service posts in Africa. Strapping and unstrapping his suitcases at a dozen official residences, he had registered the boasts and the grievances of senior diplomats, comforted innumerable sweating juniors, and endured the breathless hospitality of their wives. As he plunged into the cheerful, chattering crowd that swept him down the passage from train to cabstand, Calhern kept telling himself that the soggy menu of his official travel had earned him a surreptitious spoonful of the Marrakech soufflé.

Years ago, before his beard had grizzled and the Department had put him out to pasture in the Inspection Corps, Calhern had spent three years in the city as a vice-consul. His first encounter with the sunburnt south (he was then in his early twenties) had produced dangers and delights which, unlike those of Washington or his native Philadelphia, still burned in his memory. He longed to recapture a vestige of that exhilaration and to breathe again—might it not be for the last time?—the air of Islam.

Easter back in Washington would be chilly, Margaret Calhern had gone off on her own mission of inspection to their daughter and son-in-law in Germantown. And in Marrakech no officials would distract him: they had vanished from the Moroccan horizon with the battles of the French and the Lords of the Atlas, and the escapades of Americans at the abandoned air base. Nothing presses, Calhern told himself, as his hooded calèche rattled along the sun-baked roads that led to the medina. The gravel of the Hotel Mamounia’s driveway crunched under the wheels. “Eeyah-yah!” cried the driver. “Ti void, m’zieu.” And the horse gave a confirming whinny.

In the vast, cool lobby, Calhern stopped to look around him and listen to the splash of fountains in the garden. “Luxe, calme, et volupté,” he muttered, surrendering once again to the spell of the imperial city.

But by the third day he had to admit that for a solitary traveler—especially one with a piebald beard and an incipient paunch—lotus-eating had its limits. He missed his wife: she should be there to wander with him beside the rose-colored ramparts, to explore the olive groves of the Aguedal, to share with him the surge of music and the swarming excitement in the square of the Jemaa el Fna after sundown. He caught himself appraising the French women in bikinis beside the Mamounia pool and the Moroccan girls who peered out at him with one eye from behind their haiks. After which he sent a dutiful postcard to Margaret Calhern.

On the same day the problem was solved—or so he reckoned-—by one of his compatriots.

In the driveway of the hotel he noticed a travel-grimed bus, blazoned in red letters: “FANTASIA ROVERS.” And when he came down for his evening whiskey, he found a band of trippers standing about on the terrace: chesty men in psychedelic shirts and middle-aged women in pants suit, whose faces bore the unmistakable pout of the group tourist. At the edge of the herd he spotted a maverick: a woman slimmer than the others, and tanned—a “girl,” in Calhern’s pre-feminist glossary. She wore a sleeveless white dress, a floppy canvas hat, and aggressively opaque glasses. Clutching her drink she smiled valiantly as she dredged up conversational gambits for the woman beside her, a giantess of livid pallor, straight out of Grant Wood’s DAR. Despite the glasses, Calhern could see that the girl was attractive in a trim, leggy style: the breasts and hips of an athlete, a tapering neck, sleek black hair, cut to fall behind her ears at a sharp right angle.

When the others began to drift toward the lobby, she hung back, looking around the terrace a little forlornly, as if for someone missing. The Polaroid lenses focused briefly on him, then swerved away. Casually he got up and walked in beside her.

“Are you a Fantasia Rover?” he asked.

She flashed a smile. “Yes. How did you guess?”

“Saw your bus. Are you enjoying Marrakech?”

“Adore it—what little I’ve seen. But isn’t it hot! I can hardly believe that’s real snow over on the mountains.”

“They’re farther away than they look. Down here evening is coolest. And early morning.”

“You’ve been here before then.”

“Long ago—yes. My name’s Tom Calhern.”

“I’m Susan—-Susan Springer. You’re American, Mr. Calhern?”

“Yes. From Washington.”

“For a minute I thought you might be British.”

“Often happens. It’s the whiskers. Enjoy your dinner now.”

“Oh, we don’t eat here. The dining room is not for proles like us.”

And she told him that Fantasia had goofed on their reservations. The agency’s usual modest hotel was fully booked for Easter, so they had lodged the Rovers at the Mamounia for two nights. “No extra charge,” she said, “but it’s strictly bed and breakfast. We’re eating out at a place over in the European quarter, something called the Pourquoi Pas?

He remembered this restaurant; it was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that the first word of the question should stand alone, and then to ask her to dinner. But he thought, “No, Inspector, don’t rush it, not at your age.”

“How long are you here?” he asked.

“Till day after tomorrow.”

“Well, have a good time. Take it easy on the sightseeing. Just relax: it’s the world’s greatest spot for that.”

She took off her glasses then. Her eyes were sumptuous: orbs of deepest sea-blue; even the rounded enamel of the whites was faintly blue. In a no-nonsense face, they were the eyes of an exotic.

“I can see this place is quite special for you,” she said.

*

When he came in for his siesta the next day, Calhern heard a tumult of voices at the concierge’s desk: an American twang in the upper registers of indignation; Moroccan squeals; and a gentler woman’s voice that he recognized from the previous evening. He stopped at the desk. “Can I help?”

The two women whirled around: they were Susan Springer and the pale giantess, who was introduced as Mrs. Beal.

“It’s about breakfasts,” Susan said. “Fantasia’s supposed to pay for them, but the hotel is charging us. My French seems to have given out. I haven’t a word of Arabic.”

Calhern rallied his French and a few rusty words of Arabic. The concierge, demonstrating cultural virtuosity, replied in Berber French; and the matter was settled without loss of face.

“Wow!” Susan said. “That was super.” (She pronounced it supah.) “You’re a real diplomat.”

“I was once. Now I’m just a dismal inspector.”

“An inspector of what?” said Mrs. Beal.

“Foreign Service: embassies and consulates.”

The giantess, fixing him from behind gold-flecked horn rims, reminded him that the U.S. kept neither in Marrakech. “We could use them, though. This town’s a mite scary, if you ask me.”

“Well, we shut up shop here after the Korean War, when we gave up the air bases. Morocco was about to become independent, and it seemed the sensible thing to do.”

Susan cocked an eyebrow. “So then what are you inspecting?”

“Nothing. Just sneaking a few days leave. Inspectors aren’t popular, you know—uphill work—and I need a rest.”

“And your wife, too, I don’t doubt,” said Mrs. Beal.

“My wife had the good sense to stay in the States. We often travel separately. I’m afraid my stop here is totally unjustified.”

“I think the taxpayers will forgive you,” Susan said.

Mrs. Beal did not endorse this view. She thanked him with dignity and withdrew.

“You don’t really want to eat again at the Pourquoi Pas, do you, Ms. Springer?” Calhern said. “Dine here tonight and let it be my treat.”

Expecting ritual protestations, he was surprised when she said, “Inspector, that sounds just wonderful.”

*

Although Susan Springer apparently read no chauvinism into his invitation, she seemed a little surprised when he held doors for her, pushed her chair in at table, and poured her wine. But for the first time in weeks, Calhern dined at ease, with no buried resentment of either career or personal history lying between him and his guest. From their corner of the great dim room, they watched the violet light slowly fade beyond the windows, and the waiters, in white coats and tasseled fezzes, dashing about on soundless feet.

“Where are you Rovers going tomorrow?” he asked.

“We leave for Casablanca in the morning, and then home.”

“Home is Boston, I take it.”

“How did you know?”

“This afternoon: that “supah” couldn’t have come from anywhere else. You’re in business?”

The jaunty tilt of her chin struck him as defensive. “I run an employment agency—”Career Blazers” it’s called—in South Boston. That’s where the accent comes from, too. But let’s not talk about all that. I took this trip to get away from it.”

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s talk about Marrakech. We should make the most of your last evening here.” He looked her in the eye. “Maybe you’ll change your mind and stay longer. It’s very special, as you said.”

“Special for you, is what I said, Mr. Calhern.”

“Tom, please.”

“Tom it is. And Susan.” She gave him a little chiseled smile of relief at this lapse from formality. “Tell me about it.”

He told her then about his years as vice-consul, about the turmoil and the terror of the rebellion against the French, and the war of the Pasha with the followers of the exiled Sultan. “Lots of excitement. My boss kept me busy, and I was really too young to appreciate all the “marvels of Morocco,” as they say in the guidebooks. But a little of Islam rubbed off on me. Have you been to the Jemaa el Fna, Susan?”

“The big square? We did it this afternoon. Lots of action, but my God, it was hot.”

“Right after sundown is better. Maybe I could pry you loose from the Rovers this evening.”

“Pry me loose! I’ve been dying for a little free time.”

“Are they stuffy?”

“Not stuffy, but kind of old for me.” She looked at him, blushed, and then pressed on. “They keep moaning about the filth and the smells and the kids with flies crawling all over them. Mrs. Beal, the one you met this afternoon, goes into shock whenever a beggar or a tout comes at us.”

“Well, it is a shock at first, the Arab world. Doesn’t seem to bother you, though.”

“Oh, a little. But then I figure that’s life for most of the human race.” She pushed her dusky hair away from her ears. Bound in a fillet of blue silk, it reminded him of youths in an Egyptian frieze; her angular gesture underlined the resemblance. “If I spent all my time worrying about beggars and purse-snatchers, I wouldn’t take in much of Morocco, would I?”

“What have you taken in, Susan?”

Her brows knitted. “Life in the Middle Ages, for one thing. I’ve read about it in school, but when you walk around here or in Fez, it’s for real.”

“You’re very perceptive.”

This sounded patronizing, but it didn’t turn her off. She told him she loved the pink walls and the tower of the Koutoubia Mosque, and even the yelling and chattering and the whiny music in the cafes. “Life right there on a platter: I feel as though I’d been invited to a party. I’m a guest, not a sightseer.”

“Not much of a party for the women, though.”

She sobered instantly, cheeks flushing. “Isn’t it disgraceful?” she said. “Disgusting! I’ve even seen women walking beside the mules while the men rode.”

Did she always fire up so quickly? he wondered. “But you’re glad you came, aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes!” She brushed at a fly that was exploring the edge of her plate. “Even the flies are less up-tight, aren’t they?” Giggling at her own effervescence, she picked up her fork. “I go for the native food, too.”

They were eating an impeccable coq au vin, doubtless prepared by a French chef. But Calhern was not about to play the tutelary sophisticate, not in Marrakech. So he sat back and watched her brown arms and gleaming nails as she lifted her glass, and the shifting of the white dress over her sun-reddened breast as she plied knife and fork and stashed away chicken like a hungry schoolgirl.

At dessert she asked, rather shyly, for a second slice of lemon tart. A simple request that warmed his heart. “Of course,” he said. And when the waiter had gone, he reached out and laid a hand on her wrist. It took all his courage: he was like a fevered adolescent. A long forgotten urgency had begun to percolate in him.

Her hand jumped, but she didn’t withdraw it. Unsmiling, she raised those amazing blue eyes to his. “Hadn’t we better get moving? I have to be up with the birds tomorrow.”

*

Tracing their way through the alleys of Marrakech, they could hear a confusion of voices and music, a roar like that of the sea caught in a shell, that grew more disparate as they came nearer to the Jemaa el Fna. Now and then a mule tinkled past on feet as soundless as those of the robed and slippered men who flitted by them like ghosts. Several times Calhern pulled Susan up sharp by the elbow to avoid refuse that lay in their path or the leprous figures that darted out of the shadows, whining and stretching out their hands.

Susan clung to his arm, and although he was no stranger to the sights and smells of the medina, he was relieved when, at a sudden turning, the great lighted square burst on their view. Under the sputtering torches, the crowds assembled, dispersed, and then reassembled around snake charmers and storytellers. Dancers swayed and leaped to the music of flutes and rebecks and the chinking of iron castanets. It was as though the two of them had joined forces with some chaotic, scintillating procession that would break up presently and melt away into the night. Life, as Susan said, was right there on a platter.

But was it only life? Wasn’t there something more insidious? Listening to the music and the piercing cries of indifferent strangers, sniffing the fumes of spice and grilling meat and sweat and offal, Calhern felt his blood responding as it had thirty years ago to the promises of lust and death that hung in the air of Marrakech. Perhaps the girl beside him was touched with the same excitement—and the same dread.

They halted at a booth hung with straw matting and drank a goblet of mint tea.

“Incredible!” Susan said. “Arabian Nights, isn’t it?”

“But with the stink of something else. Jemaa el Fna—it means Assembly of the Dead, you know.”

She looked up, startled. “Funny: I was just thinking how scary it all is—underneath, I mean.” The youthful head drooped. “And I don’t mind telling you I’m absolutely exhausted.”

“No more mint tea then. How about a snort in the Mamounia bar?”

“More crowds,” she said. “More Rovers.”

Warily, casually, he said. “How about in my room?”

But she leaped at it. “Yes. Yes, I’d like that.”

Calhern chose a shorter way back. Up to now he had avoided this quarter; it aroused memories he hadn’t wanted to share. But the Jemaa el Fna and the swift oscillations of Susan’s spirits had shattered his constraints. They passed under a horseshoe arch, guarded by figures from an era he had thought abolished; turbaned police in the uniform of the Pasha, with Tommy guns slung across their chests. In the narrow street, women in haiks waited in the shadowed doorways. They muttered and hissed and clicked their bracelets.

“What’s eating on them.” Susan asked. “What have we done?”

Ah, the innocence of emancipated women! “We’re in the bousbir” he explained, “the red-light district. The girls are sore because I’ve already got company. Female tourists are bad for business.”

“Little do they know! But where do these women come from?”

“From villages in the Atlas mostly. The Pasha’s scouts used to recruit them. He got a good slice of the earnings: part of his industrial empire. The girls didn’t do too badly. Free medical care and protection from outside pimps.”

“My God, you call that doing well?”

“I didn’t say they did well, Susan, just better than on the streets.”

“Have you been everywhere in this town, Tom?”

“If you mean have I been in the bousbir, why yes, I have. But that was years ago—hate to think how many.”

“Weren’t you scared at all?”

“Oh, it was safer in here than anywhere else—especially after the bombs started. At first I came with Americans from the base. The consul came, too, once in a while.” His voice thickened. “Later I came alone.”

“The Pasha should have opened an American section.”

Her sarcasm grated. “Everyone came here, Susan. It wasn’t like back home. And I’m not hypocrite enough to pretend I didn’t enjoy myself.”

She pulled her arm from his, and they walked on in their separate silences. He thought of the brass lamps and the alcoves at the top of the tiled stairway and the reedy whine of the gramophone and the thump of military boots in the corridors. He remembered the submissive body of the Berber girl Amina, sprawled on the coarse sheet; the chubby face with the blue tattoo between the eyes. And the languor and the elation.

*

The bar at the Mamounia was crowded; couples in evening clothes sat holding hands in corners. The Moroccan bartender mixed their drinks—rum and coke for her, Scotch for him—and watched with a knowing eye as they took their glasses and wandered off toward the staircase beyond the iron grill.

At his door he handed his drink to her while he fumbled with the key. “This is my room,” he said.

“Well, I sure hope so. Mine’s just down the hall.”

“You’re coming in, neighbor? Your’re not sore at me any longer?”

“Not to worry. I’m coming in. I don’t drink alone.”

They both grinned at the idiocy of these verbal fig leaves. When he had shut the door, they sat down in a pair of prim and uncomfortable Louis Quinze armchairs, with a glass-topped table between them. Susan wore no stockings: around the fragile strap of one sandal he could see the flesh of her instep, dusty and reddened from their walk. The cheval glass across the room reflected the patterns of furniture and the gold flecks cast by the filigreed bedside lamp. The bed, with its wide brass head and foot, looked like a whole room in itself, dwarfing the pyjamas that the chambermaid had laid out beside the pillows.

He glanced at his watch: nearly midnight. The hum of the city had died away; in the garden there was only the dripping of a fountain, and only muffled voices in the hotel. As they sat with their drinks, neither of them speaking, it seemed as if sorcery had brought both of them to this room to wait together for a look or a word that would break their trance.

At last he heard the tap of Susan’s glass on the table and a scrapy little sigh like the sound of a night insect.

He got up then and, planting himself before her chair, leaned down and pushed the silk fillet from her forehead. She shut her eyes: the lids too were a faint blue. He stroked her hair and ran his fingers through it, letting it tumble over his hands. She turned her head from side to side without a sound, and he had the sense of reenacting some guilt-laden ritual. He thought of his wife, then pushed the thought aside. A hollow voice echoed at the back of his mind: Stop, silly old goat. Let go. Don’t stir up the past. Cut and run before you’re a goner. But he knelt and put his mouth to hers. And at that she seized his wrists and gave him back warmth for warmth, sealing their kisses with lips and tongue, pressing his hands against her breasts, as though she were frantic to acquit some debt of passion.

Calhern closed his eyes. Images of Amina whirled past: the blue tattoo; the space, like a child’s, between her front teeth when she smiled up at him; the budding breasts and the nipples incongruously darkened with kohl. For a minute he thought that the pulsing in his throat would stop his breath.

Then suddenly his heart brimmed over. Tears, uncontrollable, gathered to his eyes; a long sob shook him.

Susan drew away, terrified, pushing herself against the back of the chair. “What is it, Tom? What’s happened?”

Speechless, he shook his head.

“Have I done the wrong thing?”

He hauled himself up and staggered across to the bed. He stood at the foot, facing her, one hand grasping the brass rail behind him, while with the other, he dashed the tears from his cheeks. “It’s nothing you’ve done, Susan. It’s just things I remembered. All of a sudden, you know. They all came back to me at once.”

“Was I as bad as all that?”

“You were wonderful, Susan. Wonderful. Only you made me think of someone long ago. I saw her so plainly. I couldn’t believe it was really us—doing what we did just now.”

She jumped up and snatched the silk fillet from the seat of the chair. “It’s time I left, Tom. It’s late.”

He jerked the ribbon from her hand and held it behind him, as in a child’s game of forfeits. “Don’t go, Susan.”

“Give it back to me,” she whispered. “I’m not staying. I don’t want to be a stand-in for some ghost, some mystery woman.”

“There’s no mystery. It’s all finished. It was a girl I used to know here in Marrakech.”

She looked straight at him, eyebrows levelling, dull anger glowing in her cheeks. “One of your whores, I suppose. Some piece of tail from the what-you-call it.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Maybe that’s why you took me there, why you asked me up here. So history would repeat itself.”

“It’s not like that at all.”

She held out her hand, and he gave her back the ribbon. She started binding up her hair, scooping it away from her ears. The gestures seemed to calm her; the fury in her eyes dimmed out, fading again into irony. “I bet you don’t even remember the names of those poor floozies.”

“There’s only one name, Susan. This girl was a Berber, very young, sixteen maybe. Like most of them she had no way of knowing when she was born.”

“Spare me the social history, Tom.”

“Amina, her name was. A sweet kid. For me she was chimes at midnight and all that. You see, when I grew up it wasn’t like it is nowadays. My salad days were probably nothing like yours. I hadn’t much experience. I was a virgin until I left college.”

“Good God!”

“Even in the Service we were pretty strait-laced. Damned busy too. The girls back home and in Holland were apt to be up-tight, even when they went to bed with you. It was Marrakech that opened my eyes. Life on a platter, as you said. A little frightening at first for a Philadelphia boy.”

“But why the red-light district?”

“That was the best of all. To me the bousbir seemed like the Arabian Nights. I’d never had a girl like Amina: someone I could spend my nights with, someone I could give real pleasure to. In the long run I was dumb enough to think I might be able to help her.”

“You were in love with her then.”

“With her—or maybe with myself.” He shrugged. “At that age it’s hard to tell.”

“Oh, don’t I know!” Her voice went bitter. “I’ve been there, too.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Nothing like you, Tom. Playing around at school, office sex—and all that.”

“Is that all?”

“An abortion, too, if you must know. But at least I found out what love isn’t.” Her chin went up: again the defensive gesture. “Now don’t say, “Poor Susan.” I’m recovering. It’s the main reason I took this trip.” She went to the window, looked down into the dark garden. “I don’t suppose you have any idea what became of her.”

“Of Amina? Oddly enough, I do know—part of it anyway.” And he told her that after he was transferred, the consul had bamboozled the Pasha’s people into springing Amina. She lived with him until the consulate was closed. Then she had gone back to her old crib. “Her adventures with the Yankees had made her famous.” Calhern gave a sharp little laugh. “She was much in demand. But her luck ran out.”

“Luck! You mean there was worse?”

His grip tightened on the brass rail. “The Pasha’s goons picked her up along with lots of others. His French friends were leaving: he was on the skids. He was hell-bent to find out what the Americans were up to.”

“Torture?”

“Probably. And rape. Par for the course. It was revenge, too, you see. Anything to get back at the people who’d been too friendly with the roumis—European or American, it was all the same to the fanatics.”

“You couldn’t help?”

“From Washington? What could I do? Oh, I wrote to French friends here, but they couldn’t find a trace. Maybe Amina was murdered right on the spot. Maybe they shipped her back to her village. I don’t know which was worse.” He paused. “Either way I figure she died because of me.”

Dismay flared up in her eyes. “How could anyone blame you, Tom? There were plenty of others, even your own boss, you said.”

“I’ve told myself that,” he said, turning away from the bed. “But I’m the one who lit the fuse. I’ve had to live with that. Until tonight I’ve never told anyone.”

“No one? What about your wife?”

“It’s got nothing to do with my wife. Nothing.”

“But it does with me?”

“I’ve told you why. You’re young, too—and generous—like her, like Amina. But now all I can do is share an old fool’s secret with you.”

“Secrets are safe with strangers, they say.” She gave a little sigh and moved away toward the door. “For a few minutes tonight I thought we might be something else.”

As he reached around her to unlock the door, his arm lingered. But she slipped past him and started down the hall alone, pausing once as if to catch her breath. After a minute he heard the rattle of her key in the lock.

Back in his room, he flung off his coat and tie and sat on the edge of the bed, with his head in his hands. Again the wonder of the interrupted embrace swept over him. He got to his feet and paced the room in torment. Picking up a tourist pamphlet he had brought from the lobby—”The Miracle of Morocco”— he forced himself to read through the pages of gush, then hurled it into the wastebasket. When he went to the window, the faraway plaint of a reed flute drifted up on the night air.

Suddenly he heard a soft knocking. He doused the light and waited, incredulous, at the door. The knocking came again. When he opened, Susan in her dressing gown stood silhouetted against the lighted hall. He drew her in and shut the door.

In the dark she put her arms around his shoulders, stroking his neck with long, fluid gestures. “Susan, Susan,” he whispered. No answer. And when he kissed her cheeks, they were wet with tears, salty, unexpected, frightening. What have I done this time? he thought. What to this one? Waiting for the sobs that didn’t come, he tried to comfort her, passing his hands along the hollow of her back and across her narrow hips. Through his thin shirt he felt her breasts pressing against him.

“Susan, my dear, why are you crying?”

“I’m so ashamed.”

“What is there to be ashamed of?”

“It was so cruel, what you told me. Terrible. But it made me jealous.”

“Jealous of her? Of Amina?”

“Of both of you. It was so sad: and after all these years it’s still with you.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve never felt anything like that. I’m not sure I ever could.”

“Don’t worry.” His beard brushed her wet cheeks. “You’ve got plenty of time.”

Drawing her gently down on the bed, he stretched out beside her in his clothes. They lay there, scarcely moving, with their arms around each other, for how long he could never have said. The images of lust and death no longer passed before his closed eyes. His anguish was washing away, dissolving in the flood of shared compassion.

The sound of the flute began again. Susan stirred beside him. She raised her head, loosed herself from his embrace.

“You all right, Tom?”

“I’m fine.”

The lament of the flute wandered from note to note, then faltered and faded without resolution. Calhern turned his head and suddenly dropped into sleep as if to the bottom of a well. When he awoke, she was gone.

*

At breakfast he found the Fantasia Rovers clustered around the pale giantess, dunking croissants and chattering of departure for pastures new. Susan had changed from white to navy blue and drawn her hair up wire-tight above her neck. The Polaroids again concealed her beautiful eyes. She gave him no sign.

He saw her later in the lobby, standing alone with a neat plastic suitcase beside her. Before she could follow the other Rovers to the door, he crossed the room and picked up her bag. She gave him a tight little smile, and he went with her to the weather-beaten bus that stood throbbing in the driveway. He lifted the suitcase into the underbelly. She held out her hand, and he took it in both of his. In the distance the russet tower of the Koutoubia mosque shimmered through the heat.

“I’ll be leaving myself tomorrow,” he said. “Back to the old grind. So I guess it’s good-bye to the capital of the lotus-eaters for both of us.”

Her lips parted. The silvered lenses flashed. “That’s not quite the way I’ll remember Marrakech, Inspector.”

In this irony Calhern heard no rancor, only tenderness. He stood there waiting to say something else, something less foolish, before she climbed aboard and rejoined the others. But nothing came.

As the bus crunched over the gravel, she turned in her seat by the window. She had taken off her glasses now: the enameled eyes were fixed on him. His gaze stayed with hers until the bus, turning at the gate, scuffled up a cloud of pink dust and carried her out of his sight.

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