This is my first attempt at a long story/short novel/novella; call it what you will. Its working title is The Orphans. It is set in the Tanzania I remember from living there for a couple of years in 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.
The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. In a series of firsts, 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.
During 2016, I am publishing The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
Get the link to the full list of scenes here
The Orphans. Chapter Two, scene 1: Home again, and away again
I had always disliked even the idea of doing anything secretly, behind someone’s back as it were. Every fibre of my being screamed out for openness, for transparency, for honesty, At the same time, I didn’t want Della to know that I had been tracking my movements. So it was that, hopefully unseen by Della, I slipped my hand into the side pocket of my handbag and switched off my phone as soon as she called Andy to come for me. The app had automatically saved the data to its web site, and I could easily retrieve it when I was back at home.
Turning the phone off was quickly shown to be a smart move. Andy checked my bag before blindfolding me. He found the phone, looked at it, and turned to Della. “It’s off,” he said. She nodded to him, and he placed a lockable leather bondage mask over my head (you don’t want to know how I recognised what it was). It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but although my hands were free, there was no way I could remove it.
Della bade me farewell and Andy took my hand to guide me through the labyrinthine structure that was Della’s mansion. This was the first time I had been conscious while moving through the building, but I intended that it wouldn’t be the last. Andy started talking to me as we left Della’s study. I indicated by grunting that I didn’t feel like talking. He accepted that and we walked in silence. I purposed to commit to memory every turn we made and the number of steps between changes of direction. We eventually reached the car, and Andy helped me into the back before driving off.
As soon as I was home, minus the mask, I switched on my PC and opened the tracking site, which showed me the exact route that I had followed from Heathrow. I superimposed the route onto a detailed map, and read off the information I wanted – Della’s address. Armed with that, it didn’t take long to ferret out a lot more information. The house itself was a notable country home, whose floor plan, or at least a thirty-odd years old version of it, was available on the internet, provided you knew how to make best use of the search engines. I printed that out, too, and drew my path through it, to discover exactly which room was Della’s office.
I didn’t want to do anything with this information immediately. I just wanted to have it; to keep it for reference, against the day when I would need it. I carefully destroyed all traces on my PC of where I had been on the internet, erased my account on the tracking site and removed the tracking application from my phone, having first set up an account with another tracking site. I knew it wasn’t perfect, my activities were recorded on server logs and cache in goodness only knows how many places, but it would make it a little more difficult for Della or her people to find out what I had been doing.
Several weeks passed before I heard anything more. In the middle of a pleasant Sunday roast at my local pub, my mobile phone rang. It was a hidden number. I don’t usually answer calls from withheld numbers, but something told me this might be connected with my new ‘employer’. I decided to answer it. A male voice on the other end, one I didn’t recognise, said, “Ms Jont has a job for you. Pack your things and be ready to be picked up for the airport at 6am tomorrow.”
I thanked him. I don’t know why I thanked him; I didn’t want the job, and I certainly didn’t want to be flying off anywhere early on a Monday morning.
I returned home with a heavier heart and packed my bags ready for another trip..
The following morning, Andy came for me at 6am and took me to Heathrow.
It was another trip to Tanzania – BA to Nairobi, then on to Songea via Kilimanjaro. While on the long-haul flight, I studied the dossier that Andy had given me. Della must have been starting to trust me – either that or she believed that what I saw as an implied death threat would be enough to ensure my compliance. There was a lot more detailed information in the dossier this time, and I was beginning to come to an understanding of her relationship with and her attitude to the Jont Orphanage.
From Songea airport, I took a taxi for the drive to the orphanage. Much of the journey was on unmade tracks, formed and rutted over the years by lorries and 4x4s. Our route passed through several villages; in each of them, men were seated together talking and smoking on one side of the road, while the older women were similarly engaged on the other side. In response to my question, the driver told me that the younger women and older children would either be collecting wood for the fire (kuni, he called it) or off to the standpipe or other source, collecting their water for the day.
As we were bumping along the worst part of the tracks, I wondered idly if I could persuade Della to have a landing strip built near the orphanage.