This is my first attempt at a long story/short novel. 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 3: At the Ministry
Two hefty-looking security men entered the room. These were professionals. They made Richard and Sunday look like small-time club bouncers. I fully expected to be sedated again, or worse, and was rather surprised that I was still conscious still. The ministry man was on the phone to someone.
“I am having Max Matham brought to interview room 2, Sir. Will you want the guards to remain?”
I couldn’t hear the response, but it must have been negative.
“Your choice, Sir – they’re on their way.” He put the phone down and turned to me. “It has come to my attention, Miss Matham, that you have been asking questions about the activities of Jaxson Pharmaceutical and this Ministry’s relationship with that firm. These two gentlemen will take you to meet Mr Paul Jaxson. He owns Jaxson Pharmaceutical. He will be able to answer any questions you have. He probably has some questions for you, too. He says you and he have history, but he doesn’t think you’ll give him any trouble at your age. I do not know what he meant by that.”
The guards escorted me to the interview room where Paul Jaxson, a small, greying man who looked to be in his late fifties, was waiting, seated behind a small oak conference table. The guards indicated me to a seat facing Mr Jaxson. I accepted their suggestion that I should sit there. Given their size and apparent attitude, I deemed it wise to accept their kind offer.
Jaxson looked up when I walked in, and raised his eyebrows in an expression of what I took to be surprise, and said, “I thought I was going to see Max Matham.”
“This must be your lucky day,” I said. “I am she.”
“I last saw Max Matham eight years ago, when he retired as JPUK’s Head of Finance. Who are you?”
“That was my father, Maxwell Matham. He died two years ago; bowel cancer. I am his daughter, Maxine.”
“I’m sorry to hear he died. I didn’t know he had children.”
“Just the one, Mr Jaxson; just me.”
“I liked Max. Always a solid, safe pair of hands; nothing ever got past him.”
“If you get to know me, Mr Jaxson, you will find that I inherited more from my father than just my name.”
Paul Jaxson got up from his chair and started talking while pacing the room.
“What have you managed to find out about my company’s operation here, Ms Matham?”
“I know that you are taking sick infants from an orphanage in Ruvuma and bringing them to your laboratory. That much, I have seen. I know that Della Jont approves of what you are doing…”
“Of course she does, she’s being paid very handsomely for these kids.”
“What?” I said, incredulously, “You are actually trading these poor kids?”
“Come down from your high horse, Ms Matham. Della’s is just one of the orphanages we use as a resource. By paying them for these kids we’re practically funding these orphanages. Some of them would probably not still be going without our money.”
“I still think it’s disgusting—”
“Ms Matham, allow me to acquaint you with a few facts. One: these orphans have no parents. In many cases, any living relatives they have are children themselves. Two: they have AIDS. They are going to die. Soon. Three: when developing new drugs for humans, we aren’t permitted to go to controlled clinical trials until we reach the point that they’re all but ready for market. Four: the extent to which we’re allowed to test on animals is very limited, thanks to those who believe the life of a laboratory rat is worth more than the lives of sick children. Five: when we do test on animals, we can never be 100% certain that the reaction we see in them will be replicated in humans, and six; and I want you to listen to this very carefully, Ms Matham; six: the drugs we are trialling on these kids are much more likely to do them good than to do them harm.”
I tried to interject, to say something, anything, but he raised his hand to stop me, and continued, “Developing drugs, particularly those made without using petrochemicals, is a long, hard, incredibly expensive, iterative process involving work in the deep oceans and in the near-zero gravity of the International Space Station. We have modelled our drug development methodology on evolution itself. We test a new variant of our development drug on one child. If it does harm, or gives no benefit, that variant is discarded. If it has a beneficial effect, it’s tested on a small group, and then used as the basis for the next development. We are making progress. It’s slow and it’s hard, but we are moving in the right direction.” He paused. “We’re working here to rid the world of AIDS, Ms Matham. Get the idea right out of your head that we’re working to rid the world of children!”
I was becoming more and more angry; angry at him for what he was doing, but angrier at myself, because I could feel myself being sucked in by his rhetoric. “But the kids don’t have any choice; it’s hardly informed consent!”
“Did they choose to be infected with HIV in the womb? Have they given their ‘informed consent’ to being condemned to die, horribly, in a very few years? As of today, very few, if any, of these kids will be in a worse position after the trials than they would have been, had they not been brought here. The majority will not be significantly helped, and their disease will progress to its normal conclusion. We work with a team of medical, legal, religious and ethical experts to determine whether and for how long we should stand by and watch them suffer. The lucky few are helped, their condition eased, and their life expectancy increased.
“Exactly whose side do you think we’re on, Ms High-and-Mighty Matham? Who do you suppose are the good guys here; the ones who want these kids to die with dignity, or the ones who don’t want them to die at all?”
With that, he left the room and slammed the door closed.