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 2: Follow that bus
My reception at the orphanage was much better this time around. The receptionist, who I learned to be Dr Nchimbi’s wife, Makena, let me in quite cheerfully and I went straight through to Dr Nchimbi’s office.
“Good morning, Max. What has the Gorgeous Della got for you today?”
“Lots of useful information here, Dr Nchimbi…”
“You should call me Kitwana, Twana for short. I think we know each other well enough, and I wish us to be friends.”
“Thank you. As I said, Kitwana, I have a lot of information. Della tells me that the HIV-positive orphans go to a special pharmaceutical centre, where they’re trying to develop treatments that will kill the virus, or at least make it much harder to pass on. If that works, it will slow down, and may even stop the spread of HIV. And that has to be a good thing.”
“If that, indeed, is what she is doing,” he replied, with more than a hint of incredulity.
Kitwana Nchimbi believed that the children were being taken to a pharmaceutical facility, but not necessarily one that was working to cure AIDS. I was going to have to follow the next batch of orphans, to see where they ended up.
I didn’t have to wait long. I had started to study the statistics dealing with the incidence of AIDS locally, to make sure I had a good handle on what the orphanage was dealing with. A couple of weeks into this study, Makena came back from Songea, where the orphanage had a PO box, and gave her husband a note saying they should prepare ten HIV-positive infants for shipment five days later. In anticipation of this day, I had already set in motion a plan of action, and had ordered a number of discreet transmitters and a tracking device. The plan was to try to attach one of these transmitters to the vehicle carrying the children. I could then follow it at a distance, guided by the tracking receiver.
On the appointed day, an aging and rather battered-looking Toyota Hiace minibus appeared with, in addition to its driver, a woman dressed in nurse’s garb. While they were inside the orphanage, I attached a tracking device under each of the minibus’s rear wheel arches. I didn’t want to risk one of the devices failing or falling off, leaving me effectively lost in the middle of East Africa. As I attached the devices, I looked inside the vehicle and saw that its rear passenger seats were all fitted with reasonable-looking couchettes. At least they were planning to transport the youngsters in an appropriately safe fashion.
The bus left, orphans on board, just after 2pm. Makena had given me a list of their names and dates of birth, and copies of their official photographs. I put my camera into the orphanage’s Land Rover, switched on the tracking antenna and set off in pursuit.
I drove for something like five hours, keeping within a mile behind them. Driving mainly on bush roads, some of them not much better than farm tracks, through a mix of woodland, grasslands and savannah, we passed through the Salou and headed east, towards the coast. A little under six hours after leaving the orphanage, the minibus stopped. I held my station and consulted the map that I had with me. Just under a mile ahead of my position, was a building with a network of tracks converging on it.
I set off on foot and reached the building after twenty minutes’ walk. It was a modern, anonymous, single story concrete building. From my vantage point, just above it on an old termite mound nearby, I could see a helicopter on the flat roof. There was no marking on the building, but the chopper proudly proclaimed itself as belonging to Jaxson Pharmaceutical. There was little I could do there alone, so I took photographs of the scene, returned to the orphanage Land Rover and set off for Dar-es-Salaam, where I hoped to find information, if not about that operation, at least about Jaxson Pharmaceutical.
I pulled up at the hotel where I had been after my meeting with Richard and Sunday. The receptionist remembered me, and asked if I wanted the same room. I made suitably ambivalent noises, but ended up in that room anyway.
Once settled in the hotel, I connected my laptop PC to the hotel network, and started combing the web for information about Jaxson Pharmaceutical (a fast-growing player in its field, doing pioneer work in drugs, not based on petrochemical products, but using chemicals extracted from plants and animals, including some found only in the deep oceans) and their involvement in Tanzania (a big, fat blank). Sneaky time was on us.
After a good night’s sleep, I called the flight control section at Dar-es-Salaam’s Julius Nyerere airport.
“Good morning. I am looking for information on Jaxson—”
“We have no knowledge of such a business.” That was a bit quick!
“Whom should I talk to for details of routings for private helicopter flights?”
“We are the ones responsible for such matters, but we have never heard of Jaxson Pharmaceutical.”
I hung up. The flight controller had told me plenty. I hadn’t managed to give him the name of the company I was interested in, but he gave it back in full. A neat trick for someone who claimed he’d never heard of the organisation. So, it was likely that he was under some sort of secrecy instruction and not very good at following it. If that instruction existed, it suggested that the operation was at best clandestine and morally questionable; at worst, illegal and morally repugnant.
My next call was to the health ministry. They, too, claimed to have no knowledge of Jaxson Pharmaceutical.
How could that be, unless there were some kind of cover-up going on? Or perhaps Jaxson Pharmaceutical was using a network of shell companies to hide its identity and, presumably, its intentions.
I called Kitwana and told him what I had learned so far. Then, following Della’s instructions, I posted a progress report to a closed, private web site where only she could see it. Her brief to me for this trip was to confirm that the orphanage was responding to requests for children, and that the children were being taken to the secure facility, as agreed with her clients. She gave the impression that she didn’t know the identity of her ultimate clients, and I didn’t tell her – only that the building was unmarked. I didn’t mention the helicopter.
Jaxson’s international accounts were to be my next area of focus. My background as a forensic accountant would serve me well to make sense of what I found. Their official consolidated accounts for the prior year were available on-line. I pulled down a copy. As expected, there was nothing to learn from them. Looking into the finance and business areas of government sites, I found that Jaxson Pharmaceutical Inc. owned 49% of the stock in JP (Tanzania) Ltd., known as JPT. The other 51% was owned by TanzCap Ltd, a locally registered and domiciled company ultimately traceable back to, you guessed it, Della’s company, JCap Holdings. It was time to grace a few offices with my presence.
I made an appointment with the health ministry, stating that I was with JCap. The next morning I took the 90-minute flight to Dodoma and made my way to the health ministry. The minister’s number two stood as I entered his office, shook me by the hand and indicated the seat in front of his desk.
“You are representing TanzCap, I understand,” he said.
“That’s right. My name is Max Matham. I was sent here by the owner of JCap Holdings, TanzCap’s ultimate parent company. I need to audit this operation, as part of JCap’s global financial health-check.”
“Then I’m glad you’ve come here,” he looked up and pressed the button on his desk intercom, smiled at me and shouted, “SECURITY!”