About two years ago, early 2014, I started my first attempt at a long story/short novel/novella; call it what you will. It is about 60000 words long, and its working title is The Orphans. The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. In a series of first attempts, here’s its blurb.
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 although the finances are okay, there are some disturbing things 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.
This is the first story involving Max Matham, but is unlikely to be the last!
During 2016, I shall, tentatively and with much trepidation, publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday. Scene lengths vary – the longest is 2379 words, the shortest 67. Some re-organisation might happen as the weeks go by.
Here’s the first scene. Get the link to the full list of scenes here
The Orphans. Chapter One, scene 1: Kidnapped!
“Hello, Max.” A soft and sultry voice approached from somewhere in the distance, bringing me round from… Hang on! I didn’t remember falling asleep. And certainly not in a chair in someone’s office.
My head began to de-fuzz, and I started to make out the voice’s owner. Seated behind a desk across the office from me, a luxuriously appointed office whose fittings and furnishings certainly didn’t lack a feminine touch, and dressed in pastel shades of pink, she was gorgeous; a heart-shaped face framed by long strawberry blonde hair. As far as I could tell she wore no make-up, and didn’t need any – no make-up artist can improve on perfection. She looked to be in her forties, and it looked good on her.
“I had my people bring you here. We need to talk,” she said.
By this time, my head was almost mine again. “What do you mean, need to talk? I don’t need to talk to you, whoever the hell you are. And if you wanted to talk to me, what’s wrong with the telephone? So what happened? How did I get here?”
“You might have chosen not to accept my polite invitation,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “I didn’t want to leave that to chance.” Then, quite menacingly, she added, “I never leave things to chance.”
My home was a thatched cottage, dating back to eighteen-oh-something, at the end of a lane, way out in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Anyone who drove past was either visiting me, delivering something, or lost. At least once a week I found myself sticking my head in through an open car window to point to a map, so when a car pulled up that afternoon, asking for directions, I thought nothing of doing what I always did.
“So… what? You drugged me?” I asked. “What for? And who the hell are you?”
“I’m sorry, we haven’t been properly introduced, have we?” she said in mock apology. “Unless I am very much mistaken, you are Maxine Matham, 41 year-old freelance accountant and daughter of the late Maxwell Matham. Am I right so far?” I managed a grunt and a nod.
“Good,” she continued, “My name is Della Jont, I’m sure you’ve heard of me. Your father used to work for my father. Now, isn’t that a coincidence?” That was enough for me. Della Jont, also known as The Gorgeous Della; reputedly one of the most ruthless businesswomen in the county, maybe even the country. This reminded me of the Bible story where Job met God face-to-face; I had heard much about her but until then, like most other people, I had no idea what she looked like.
In fact, all that most people know about Della is that she is obscenely rich, having inherited Jont Capital, a massive global investment company, on her father’s death. As happens with many people who stay out of the public eye, she is the subject of so many dark stories, that most folk believe she was thoroughly evil.
And here I was, in her metaphorical clutches.
She leaned back in her chair and spoke again. “I’ve had you brought here, Max … may I call you Max?” Another grunt and nod. “I’ve had you brought here, Max, because there’s something I want you to do for me.” She leaned forward in her chair and looked at me through narrowed eyes, as though to impart some great secret. “I know how people around here think about me,” she continued, “and that suits me fine. I value my privacy, and there are aspects of my life and activities that I choose to keep to myself. I never, ever air my dirty laundry in public. If you’re going to help me, you need to satisfy me that you can respect that.”
I was indignant. “Hold on a minute” I said, trying to rise to my feet but finding myself still too weak to do so. I fell back into the chair. “I can’t believe your gall. You have me drugged and kidnapped right outside my home, brought here to the middle of God-knows-where, tell me you want me to do something for you, but don’t tell me what; and then you have the nerve to start laying down conditions, as though I were asking for something from you.”
Della remained impressively calm. Was this a routine conversation for her? Perhaps she did a lot of this kind of thing.
“Okay; let me explain myself,” she continued.
“I wish you would!” I said, “And it had better be good.”
“My company funds an orphanage in Africa; one that my father started in the seventies. I have recently been hearing rumours that the place is not being, shall we say, appropriately managed. I need to know if there’s any basis to those rumours. That’s all there is to it. I want you to visit the orphanage in the guise of a potential donor, take a look around and report back to me. Do that, honestly and completely, and you will be well recompensed.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’d rather you didn’t ask me that, Max,” she replied. “Let me just say that I have information about your late father’s activities that you wouldn’t want to be public knowledge.”
This time I managed to get up on my feet. “What information? What activities? Come on; if you’ve got something, let’s hear it.”
“Sit down, Max,” Della said, leaning forward and pointing to my seat as a teacher would to an errant child. I lowered myself slowly back into the chair.
“Much as we all loved and respected your father; I no less than anyone else; I’m afraid he was not always as straightforward in his dealings and relationships as he would have had you believe,” she continued. “He did a number of jobs for my father, that your poor mother wouldn’t want to hear about.”
“You leave my mother out of this!” I said, in a menacing tone.
“I’ll be happy to.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. “If you do this little job for me, she won’t need to find out anything, will she?”
“You bitch! So why me? Don’t you have your own accountants?”
Della smiled at my outburst, “Accountants? Yes, I have plenty; more than I need, if I’m honest. Good ones, too.” Then leaning forward again, and with a conspiratorial air, she added, “But you aren’t just any accountant, are you, Max? No. You’re a forensic accountant. You investigate possible financial crimes, and from what I hear you are one of the best in your field. You are exactly what I need.”
She reached into the top drawer of her desk. “Here is your ticket, along with a dossier of detailed information and instructions. We’ve opened an account in your name with a major bank, and a debit card is in the pack. That will make sure you have enough funds to do the job. You’ll leave for Nairobi tomorrow; 10.50am, Heathrow Terminal 5. Andrews, my driver, will come for you at 6am. Be ready.” Stretching across the desk to hand me the dossier, she added, “The telephone number on the cover is your contact point. If you find yourself in serious trouble, call that number and leave details. I will have some people there to help you. If the job goes well, just call the number and leave the flight number and date for your return. I’ll have you picked up from Heathrow and brought here.”
“You seem pretty sure I’ll go.”
“Because you don’t want to risk the consequences of not going.”
I picked up the ticket and the rest of the documents and took a quick look through them. Either this woman was as smart as she was good-looking, or she had some seriously smart people working for her. All the documentation was perfect, as though I’d arranged it myself. She had all my information, including details of my new passport that had only been issued a few months earlier. While I was looking at the file she had given me, the door behind me opened. Before I could look around…