Sunday serialisation – The Orphans, 15.2

The Orphans2_resize The Orphans is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.

Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.

Beginning on 10 January 2016, I shall publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.

The full list of scenes so far published is here

The Orphans. Chapter Fifteen, scene two: The meeting.

I had no idea what Hannice and Sophie did on Tuesday. They left the house before 10 o’clock, and I didn’t see them again until almost seven in the evening. They were in very high spirits when they arrived, more like a pair of teenagers than a wheelchair-bound forty-something and his carer.

They didn’t volunteer much, either; just that they had seen a few sights and been to some of Hannice’s favourite haunts. When I asked about his physio and personal care, they both said, almost in unison, “We managed.”

They were rather tired, Hannice certainly; I could see it in his face. They retired early and I went back to my book. I had managed to add another couple of chapters during the day and was keen to push it through to its conclusion. I now had a working title for it; this story of marital conflict: she a feted chef, running the kitchen end of a restaurant hovering on the brink of success, and he a somewhat rabid accountant. My working title was “There’s no accounting for taste”.

Wednesday was the day of the meeting. We all knew that the three directors of TanzCap: Fonseca, Thakur and Wangwe would have been briefed by Della, and I had no doubt that they had been instructed to hold out for a figure much higher than we were prepared to offer. I had spoken with Paul the previous day, and acquainted him with our position. He was rather ambivalent on the numbers. His only concern was that someone with the right credentials would hold the 51% of the business that the licence mandated, so the company could continue to do business. The level of capitalisation was of lesser interest, he told me, as JPI could offer top-up funding if needed.

Seven of us assembled around the conference table in Jaxson’s facility: on one side, three TanzCap directors; on the other side, Hannice and I, as negotiators, and Sophie as observer. Paul sat, symbolically, at the head of the table, favouring neither side. He acted as chairman and Sophie as secretary.

Paul called the meeting to order and set out its purpose.

“Jaxson Pharmaceutical (Tanzania) is required by its licence to be 51% owned by Tanzanian interests. This requirement has been met by TanzCap, but TanzCap’s owners, JCap Holdings, wish to divest the holding. Further, the government of Tanzania has indicated that it does not accept that TanzCap is fully owned by Tanzanian interests, as all its shares, apart from nominal amounts held by its directors, are registered to Jont Capital (India).

“It is therefore incumbent on TanzCap to offer their interest in JPT to a suitable Tanzanian national, or to a company that is domiciled in Tanzania and majority owned by Tanzanian interests. The relevant bodies being satisfied that Knight Investment (Tanzania) meets the domicile and ownership requirements, and they having expressed an interest in purchasing from TanzCap, their interest in JPT, the sole purpose of this meeting is for the parties to agree a price.” He then called upon the parties to start their negotiation, agreement to be reached within one hour.

I spoke first. “Having researched the value of JPT, and allowing for the fact that if this deal doesn’t go through, JPT will cease trading, KIT is prepared to make a cash offer amounting to four billion shillings.”

Two of the three TanzCap directors had clearly taken on board their owner’s instructions; they calmly shook their heads from side to side, indicating dissent. My old friend and, as I now know, Kanene’s father, Afolabi Fonseca, was incandescent.

“How can you possibly make such a derisory offer? The company is worth at least thirty billions, fifty-one percent of which is more than fifteen billions. Yet this white devil is offering only four billions!”

Thakur grabbed his sleeve and tried to pull him down, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Unhand me, Ravi,” he said. “I knew, as soon as this creature came in pretending to be working for Miss Jont, that she was trouble. I told you all. I kept a close watch on what she was doing, where she was going—”

“Sit down and be quiet, Labi,” Mr Wangwe counselled, “Ms Matham is unlikely to raise her offer in the face of such abuse and threats, is she? Remember, you are a director of a significant corporation, not a—”

“Not a what, Abraham? Not a what?” Fonseca demanded to know.

“A shaman, a witch-doctor,” I interjected. He looked ready to explode;

“Who has been talking to you?” he yelled.

“You have,” I calmly replied, “by your actions, by your words and by your behaviour. Now, would you care to sit down and listen to the advice of your colleague, or would you prefer to risk being declared unfit to hold a directorship?”

Thakur and Wangwe grabbed a sleeve each and dragged him into his seat.

“We have had discussions with Miss Jont,” said Mr Thakur.

“We imagined you would have. What is her view?”

“Miss Jont says she would like to realise seven billions.”

“That’s too much for us,” I advised, “I can increase from four to five billions for a quick agreement.”

Fonseca was clearly struggling to hold himself in check, and Wangwe was muttering softly to him, seemingly trying to keep him calm whilst Thakur conducted the negotiation.

Thakur spoke into his phone, put it down and said, “I am authorised to accept five and a half billions. That is our ‘red line’. We cannot, will not accept any less.”

“You are aware, Mr Thakur,” Hannice said, “that if we don’t reach an agreement at this meeting, JPT will be forced to cease trading and go into liquidation. You will then be left with 51% of a company that is worth only the market value of its tangible assets. So…”

“But… but… but…”

“So it is as well that we are prepared to meet your figure of five and a half billion shillings, isn’t it? Have your lawyers draw up the papers and present them to our lawyers by close of play on Friday. We should be able to conclude this and have the cash in your account by this time next week.”

Heads nodded, hands were shaken and the three TanzCap directors left the building. Two of them had a look of satisfaction, if not happiness; the other was still fuming.

I recounted to Hannice, Paul and Sophie details of my last face-to-face with Della, in which she told me what a formidable opponent she would be.

“If that was Della being formidable,” Hannice observed, “it’s a pity we didn’t come up against her on a normal day; we might have got away with the four we started with.”

Marcia came in bearing an ornate silver tray on which stood a magnum of France’s finest and five flutes.

“Why five glasses?” Hannice asked.

“You don’t think I’m bringing the good stuff in and not having a glass myself, do you?” Marcia replied.

We all laughed, as the tension of the meeting melted away.

“I don’t know what I’d do without Marcia,” Paul said.

“I feel the same about Lindy,” Hannice replied, “but I’m afraid I have to let Max have him. Not an easy thing for me, the man is a saint.”

I looked at Hannice incredulously; he had poached my friend, assistant and confidante.

“Look after Sophie, Hannice,” was all I could add.

Still very much under construction.

Photographed by me, from a commercial aerial image commissioned by MJAC – Mina Jebel Ali Construction Co (Pte) Ltd.
The rights of the photographers and of MJAC and its principals are fully acknowledged.

Ten days in Kerala. Day 0 – getting there.

After what seemed like months of waiting (I suppose it was; I’d booked the holiday in May), the day finally arrived for our trip-of-a-lifetime in India’s Kerala state.

We had made all the preparations: our passports were up to date, we had obtained the relevant visas from the Indian authorities, and Clare’s father had arrived to look after the dogs in our absence (he arrived a few days before we left, so he and the dogs could get to know each other). Having already checked in on-line, we drove to Paris the afternoon before our flight and stayed the night with Tania and Romain.

dsc_0093I have the impression that Clare was only there for some puppy love!

The next morning, at an hour at which no sane or respectable person should be on the streets, we left for the airport. We were, of course, required to turn up three hours before our anticipated take-off time, to complete the formalities that never take more than one hour. We did it in a lot less than that, so spent a couple of hours wandering aimlessly in the terminal.

Just as our flight was called, another notice came that indicated the presence of unattended baggage in the gate adjacent to ours. Parts of the airport were cleared. They couldn’t evacuate us easily, as we’d already passed through all the security checks and were in possession of boarding passes. We stood in what I assumed was supposed to be a queue; although ‘flash mob’ might be a closer description; for a period aproaching thirty minutes, before the airport security declared it was safe for us to board.

The economy section of the Qatar Airways Airbus A380-800 was surprisingly roomy and had the appearance of being new, or nearly so.
p1020092Eventually, thirty minutes later than planned, we were underway. Flying time to Doha: 6 hours 25 minutes. p1020093The half-hour delay was not an inconvenience to us in the long run. Our anticipated landing time at Doha was 17:55 local time. Our onward flight to Cochin was due to depart at 01:20. That’s right, seven and a half hours later. The thirty minutes delay reduced that to seven hours dead.

You will understand that we weren’t in the same mad panic rush to leave the plane as our fellow passengers, and by the time we sauntered off, they were all gone. The airport looked deserted.

14570506_10154314092630432_2891922745776495326_nWe took seats along that causeway, but had to move on, as the staff seemed embarrassed by our presence. Every vehicle that passed, every trolley, every Segway, stopped to ask if we needed a lift anywhere. When we said we didn’t, that we had seven hours to kill before our flight, we were inundated with offers to get us to a hotel. We were tempted by that, but chose, instead, simply to move on the central concourse.

Having spent five years in Dubai; admittedly, three and a half decades ago; I thought I knew what the word ‘opulence’ implied. Like Jodie Foster’s Dr. Eleanor Arroway in the film ‘Contact’, though, I had no idea!   dsc_0095dsc_0098dsc_0101 dsc_0104We strolled, we sat, we ate, we talked about everything and nothing, we looked at a smart suitcase that costs almost $1,000 and decided we could live without it, we looked at watches and electronic stuff and decided similarly.

And after having done all that…

dsc_0103 …we still had five hours to wait.

Supercars used as props is something new to me. I dread to think what the value of these display pieces must have been.dsc_0107 dsc_0105They gave pleaseure to some, though. This chap, while we were watching, took more than a dozen selfies with this Maclaren behind him. I think he covered every conceivable angle.

Seven hours is a long time; a very long time. However, it was finite; it had an end, and eventually we were called to board our onward flight  to Cochin. Flying time 4 hours 40 minutes. We slept for much of this second flight, arriving at Cochin airport a little after 8am.

According to our trip itinerary, the first day’s activities were described as:

Day 1: Arrival / Cochin

At the airport, you will see that Tree Trunk Travel representative is waiting to give a warm welcome and later he will escort you to your hotel, previously reserved.

After upon arrival in Hotel discuss your tour itinerary with our representative in Lobby and after that our representative will help you to check into formalities.

How that panned out will be the subject of next week’s instalment.

dscf0033aThis image shows a male Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) named Kerry, that I trained for the Hawk Conservancy Trust in the late 1990s. A texture painter at Rhythm and Hues Studio in Los Angeles asked me, in 2004, to produce some detail shots of a mature Harris Hawk, with special emphasis on the eyes and tail structures. This is one of the images I produced for him. The studio needed to craft a computer-generated Harris Hawk for use in the 2005 film Elektra, starring Jennifer Garner. If you watch the film, the hawk that appears from Tattoo’s shoulder is Kerry!