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 am publishing The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Sixteen, scene three: Meeting with Jaxson.
The meetings with Jaxson took place the following Monday morning. There were two meetings: Paul and I needed to decide who does what, while Lindy and Roger worked on the practicalities.
The main part of the business was easy enough. Paul and I agreed that the administration and local accounting would be best done by HIS. Roger would continue as Paul’s accountant, looking after the JPI/JPT relationship, but Lindy would be the accountant for JPT, reporting to me.
That agreed, there wasn’t much for the boys to discuss at the meeting. There would be discussions over the next few days to ensure a clean handover. I agreed with Paul that HIS would engage one accounts clerk, one general clerk and a secretary, all released from Jaxsons as a result of the merging of functions. I had previously raised this possibility with Lindy, and we had agreed that he would need a small number of people to help with the setting up of the company. We would be able to gauge later how many people we needed on an ongoing basis.
Lindy and Roger went off together to start talking details, while Paul and I remained.
“Now that you are on board as CEO of Jaxson Pharmaceutical Tanzania,” Paul started, “let’s talk about the state of our research.”
Paul pulled a thick file from his briefcase. “Things have moved on since we last spoke,” he said. “There is still value in monitoring the virus’s progress in very young children, but that is no longer the main area where our researchers; I suppose I should refer to them as your researchers, now; are operating. Why don’t I call our chief researcher in, to update you?”
He pressed the intercom, “Can you send Julie in please, Marcia?” Almost immediately, the door opened and a young woman entered. She was short of stature, with shoulder-length ginger hair framing an angular, almost gaunt-looking face. She wore a white lab coat over a black tee shirt bearing a motif I couldn’t clearly see, and faded blue jeans.
“Max,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Julie Greatorex, one of your chief research scientists. The other is Tom Goodship; he’s on leave this week. Julie, say hello to Max Matham, your new boss.”
“Don’t I still work for you, though, Paul?” she asked.
“Yes, you do, Julie. You will continue to work under my direction as far as the scientific research goes. Administratively, though, you will report to Max, who is now CEO of Jaxson Pharmaceutical Tanzania.”
Julie looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, her brows raised. I had a feeling she didn’t trust the arrangement.
“I don’t plan to interfere in your work, Julie,” I said, hoping to reassure the young researcher. “I’m no scientist. What I would appreciate, though, is that you keep me up to date with your research by way of an executive summary, when you give detailed results to Paul.”
“We can do that, Max. I’ll pass it on to Tom when he comes back. Would you like me to summarise our current position now?”
“The work with the orphans is helping us to understand how the virus develops. The main result from that is telling us that although treatment is possible, cure is more problematic. Another strand of research by our geneticists, that’s Tom’s team, is suggesting that we may be able to modify the virus to slow its replication. That is looking promising, and is pointing to the possibility that there may just be a way to stop it replicating altogether. If we can do that, and we can isolate infected subjects, we may reach a point where it becomes non-viable. That won’t help the infected subjects, but it will stop it in its tracks. It’s important to realise that this research is in its infancy, though, and we can’t make any claims for it. Not yet, anyway.”
“But you’re hopeful?” I asked.
“But we’re hopeful,” Julie replied.
“And tell me, Paul; what’s the story with the orphans now? Don’t forget the conditions stipulated by Hannice that underlie our investment.”
“Yeah. We still need young kids and, if we can ever identify them, newly infected adults. It’s the early-stage infection that’s key. Freshly diagnosed doesn’t help.”
“The Jont orphanage nurses do regular tests in their local villages and should be able to highlight new infections,” I suggested.
“Talk to them. It would be a great help if they could persuade suitable adults to join our programme.”
“What can you offer to induce them?”
“The best treatment money can buy, and an early in on the latest drugs still under development. Don’t forget that where we are now, the only outcome from trialling our development drugs is either improvement or no improvement. It’s a long time since taking our drugs made anyone’s health worse.”
“Do you offer payment for adults?”
“So why do you for children?” I asked.
“Max,” Paul replied, “that’s just our way of channelling a bit of cash to the orphanages without them thinking they are in our debt. It’s that simple.”
“What about the children?”
Paul handed me a slim file. “Read this,” he said.
The file contained a set of contracts between JPT on the one hand, and various statutory, social and religious bodies on the other. They granted the various bodies full oversight of the operation of JPT’s children’s facilities, and put in place a stringent inspection and accountability régime. Once I had finished reading them, I looked at Paul.
“Will that satisfy your boss’s conditions?” he asked.
“We are still missing informed consent,” I said, “but apart from that, it looks fine.”
“When the children enter the orphanages, the principals of those establishments become their legal guardians, and their every act is carried out in loco parentis. I won’t insult you by asking if you are aware of what that means. So we have, and always have had, informed consent from the legal guardians of these children. Your objection assumed the orphanages were helping us for the cash they needed. I think the documents you’ve just read clear that up.”
“So what you’re telling me, is that we’re both on the same side.”
Paul asked Marcia to bring six teas, and to ask Lindy and Roger to re-join us.
Lindy and Roger confirmed that they had ironed out all the necessary procedures, in principle at least, and were looking forward to working together. Things were looking up, and the meeting broke up on a high note.
All that ended when I got back to Nocturne. A voice message was waiting for me from Makena Nchimbi; one that looked set to dampen our high spirits. She said that a young girl with albinism, one in their area that they had not known about, had received a visit from some men apparently working for a local shaman. These men had relieved the poor child of her left hand and part of her forearm. She has been taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.
I told Hannice and Sophie about the message, and called Makena straight away.
“How is the little girl doing?” I asked.
“She should survive,” Makena replied. “Very sadly, our surgeons have a lot of experience with wounds like these. But however well she does, the mental effects will always be with her.”
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do from here, Makena. Make sure the police know about it and follow it through.”
Kanene brought tea while I was on the phone, and heard some of the conversation.
“Is that about an attack on an albino?” she asked.
“I’m sorry to say it was,” I replied. “A young girl. She lost one hand and part of her arm. Someone will make a lot of money from that.”
“I will mention it to my father. He has contacts who may be able to help.”
“Isn’t he one of them, though?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “he is, but he is dead against this mutilation of albinos, and is doing what he can to try to stop it.”
“Maybe I misjudged your father, Kanene,” I said, “be sure to let him know, when you tell him about this, that I will do whatever I can to help him in his efforts to discourage this evil trade.”