This was 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 Three, scene one: Not a happy Della
I left the ministry and found a guest house where I could spend the night, before flying back to Dar-es-Salaam. I didn’t think I would learn anything more there. Paul Jaxson had given me a great deal of information – more than I could take in, really. I needed to do some research, and some serious thinking.
That question he asked me, “Who do you suppose are the good guys; the ones who want the children to die with dignity, or the ones who don’t want them to die at all?” really played on my mind. That was what it all came down to, wasn’t it? If what he said was true – that few, if any, children had a worse outcome as a result of what he was doing, and some would see improvement – how could it be wrong? If he was, by paying the orphanages, guaranteeing their financial survival, how could that be wrong? But why was he paying for the orphans at all? Why, if he wanted to support the orphanages, didn’t he just support them? Was there more to this than met the eye? My head was telling me that Paul Jaxson was following a righteous path, but my heart; everything I was, everything I believed in; was telling me that his path was one of pure, unfettered evil motivated by commercial greed.
My immediate concern was that I had to report to Della, through the private website she had set up. I logged on to the site, and saw a message from her. “We need to talk”, it said, and instructed me to return to England as soon as possible. I booked a flight, called in the details, and messaged Sophie to let her know I would be home the next day.
One immediate problem was what to do with the Land Rover. I called Dr Nchimbi.
“I have to fly to London tomorrow, Kitwana,” I said.
“For how long?” he asked.
“Don’t know,” I said. “I hope it’s just a couple of days, but I don’t want to tie your vehicle up here for what could turn out to be a lot longer. I shan’t know anything until I get my next orders.”
“Okay, Max. Leave the keys with the hotel, I’ll have it collected.”
Della’s “we need to talk” message was not quite accurate. We didn’t need to talk; Della didn’t need to talk. Della needed to shout, to let off steam, to rant. Incredible vehemence from such a pretty face.
“What were you thinking?” she demanded, “First you pose as an employee of one of my companies, then you speak to a man who is, globally, one of my most important clients as though you are working against me, not for me!”
“You told me you didn’t know the identity of your client. You gave me no information about this… this trafficking. How am I supposed to represent your interests if I don’t know what they are? I know you have a reputation for being a cold, calculating, heartless bitch, but I was hoping that wasn’t true. It seems I was wrong.”
“You need to be careful what you are saying, Max.” The harsh, almost threatening tone in which she said that told me that I had struck a nerve.
“What is your interest in this?” I wanted to know, “Are you, like Jaxson, trying to save lives? Are you working in the orphans’ interests? In the interest of slowing and halting the spread of AIDS? Or are you only in it for what you can get out of it?”
“These precious orphans of yours, the ones with AIDS,” Della replied, sneeringly, “how long do you suppose they will live? And do you have any concept of the financial burden of running what is more like a hospice than an orphanage? Does your holier-than-thou position give you any perspective on the difficulty and the cost of providing palliative care to dozens in the context of an overcrowded orphanage? There is nothing we can do for these kids. If Jaxson can cure them, great. In the meantime, Jaxson takes on the cost of giving that care and dealing with all the problems that go with it, and gives the orphanage a stack of money at the same time. That means they need a lot less from me. That is my interest, and that is what I pay you, and require you to defend. I have no choice but to fund this damned orphanage. My aim is to minimise the cost of running it until such time my lawyers can find me a way of getting out of it altogether.”
“You don’t know, do you?” I asked, incredulously, “You don’t know that for every thousand shillings the orphanage receives for these poor kids, more than five hundred come out of your own pocket.”
“What are you talking about?” Della’s expression changed from assertive to defensive. She didn’t know what her Tanzanian company was up to.
“49% of JP (Tanzania) is directly owned by Jaxson. The other 51%, the locally owned majority shareholding mandated by the licence, is owned by a company called TanzCap. Ring any bells? TanzCap is a Tanzanian company that is owned by Jont Capital (India), a business that is owned by JC Europe, a Gibraltar registered company that is owned by JCap Holdings. And that, Della, is how you come to own 51% of JP (Tanzania).”
“Christ,” she exclaimed. “Are you sure? I’m paying myself?”
“Okay.” I could almost hear her analysing the situation and devising a route through it. Whatever else Della was, she was certainly a shrewd businesswoman. “TanzCap was set up as a capital provider,” she continued, “not a pharmaceutical business! I need you to get me out of that, Max. I don’t care how you do it, just do it. Find out what else TanzCap is into and, whatever else you do, I want you to make sure they get rid of their interest in this company, as a matter of urgency.” She turned away from me and pressed the intercom on her desk, “Andrews!”
Andy came into the office. This time, I saw the bondage mask before he put it on me.
“Sorry, Miss,” he said. I saw no point in resisting, apart from which … perhaps it’s best not to follow that thought any further.