This was my first attempt at a novella. Its working title is The Orphans. It is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from 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. All of it.
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 some disturbing things are 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.
From 10 January 2016, I will publish The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Four, scene three: Tribunal
I didn’t know quite what I had expected of this trip, but it didn’t include spending the night in a dingy, overcrowded immigration holding cell with, for company, a dozen or so assorted would-be immigrants, none of whom spoke any English; two wardens, neither of whom seemed to speak any English, either; and the cockroaches — my God, the cockroaches! There must have been hundreds of them. Enormous, too: between five and seven centimetres in length.
Shortly after dawn, one of the wardens appeared at the cell door.
“Prisoner Matham,” he said, pronouncing it ‘May Tom’.
“Ndio,” I replied. The Swahili for ‘yes’ was one of the few words I had so far picked up.
“Come,” he said, opening the cell door. Some of my cellmates tried to push through as well, but the warden pushed them back with the butt of his rifle. Did I mention that he was carrying a rifle?
I followed him into a small room, where a handsome, distinguished-looking man in his fifties was seated. He rose to his feet as I entered.
“Max Matham?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied – no point in denying it.
“Dick Branson, no relation, Hannice Knight’s solicitor. He tells me you’re in a spot of bother.”
“It looks that way, doesn’t it?” I said, looking around at my surroundings. “How much did Hannice tell you?”
We shook hands and took our seats across the table from one another. Mr Branson took a thin folder from his briefcase and placed it on the table between us.
“Pretty much everything, as far as I know,” he said, thumbing trough the file. “I have spoken with a few people, and managed to get a preliminary hearing with the immigration court this morning. I’ve also spoken with the judge – I play squash with him three times a week – and I think he will be sympathetic.”
“I only came to Tanzania for a couple of meetings this time. My visa should be okay for that. Why have I been arrested?”
Looking up from his file, he said, “It looks like somebody’s trying to put obstacles in your way.”
“That doesn’t surprise me much,” I said, “and I think I know who it might be.”
“Never mind that for now, Max. I have a line of defence for you, which I think should work with a sympathetic judge. When we go in, allow me to speak for you. Don’t interrupt, even if you disagree with what I’m saying. Just follow my lead, and everything should be fine. Then, Hannice will owe me one for a change. It’s usually the other way around.”
I reluctantly agreed with his suggestion. I reasoned that if Hannice used him, he must have been at least reasonably competent, although whether this was within his field of expertise I guessed I would find out later.
We rose, shook hands again, and I was escorted back to the cell. All of my property had, of course, been taken from me, so I couldn’t put my thoughts into my notebook. I played through, in my mind, all the events and conversations of the past few days. It must have been Fonseca. He was the only one who openly objected to what I had said; he even threatened me. Or perhaps it wasn’t him, but the person who turned me in wanted me to think it was.
Either way, Della wanted me to disentangle her from Jaxson, and I wanted to find out more about what he was doing. I wanted to put a stop to it. At that point, my thoughts were interrupted by another call from the warden. I followed him to the tribunal, where he led me to a seat beside Dick Branson.
The judge entered and the clerk read out my name and the charge. I was happy to learn that Dick had succeeded in having the proceedings followed in English.
“Mr Branson. How does your client plead to the charge as laid out?”
“Not guilty, Your Honour.”
“Let us proceed. Prosecution?”
The prosecution laid out their case. Based on an anonymous tip, and my confirmation that I was acting as chairman of the company, they arrested me. That was it. Dick rose to speak.
“If it please the court, my client arrived in the United Republic of Tanzania at the behest of her employer, Ms Della Jont of Jont Capital, intending to attend one or two meetings, after which she was to leave again. When the meetings did not produce the result my client’s employer wanted, my client was obliged to bring into play the Power of Attorney that her employer had given her, and…”
“Is that document available, Mr Branson?”
“It is, Your Honour.” Hannice had given the Power of Attorney document to Dick, and he passed it to the judge.
“Thank you, Your Honour. We do not dispute that once my client started to exercise the power given to her, she became as the owner of the business, and her actions were those of an owner running the business, not of a proxy attending meetings. However, we contend that as soon as my client exercised the Power of Attorney, she was no longer Max Matham; she was effectively nothing more than a mouthpiece for Della Jont; a puppet, if you will. Ms Jont is, as I’m sure you are aware, the holder of a full Class A Residence Permit.”
“But Ms Jont isn’t here, Mr Branson, is she?”
“We contend that she is, Your Honour, by virtue of the Power of Attorney she gave to my client. When exercising that power, my client could do nothing of her own volition, had no freedom of action, of speech or even of thought; her every word was as if spoken by Ms Jont herself.”
“This is a novel argument you present, Mr Branson. Does your client concur?” He turned to face me directly. “What say you, Ms Matham?”
What say I? I was seething. A mouthpiece? Is that how Branson sees me? A mouthpiece? I had to answer him, even though my every word would stick in my throat. I had, after all, agreed to go along with Branson, whatever he said.
“I agree with the essence of Mr Branson’s argument, Your Honour. I was not a free agent.”
Phew. I managed to get that out. How, I’ll never know. I wanted to shout out that I am a mature, competent woman, perfectly able to conduct business using my own brain. The judge gave his gavel two strikes on its block and spoke.
“We shall take time to consider your argument, Mr Branson. This court will adjourn until two o’clock this afternoon. If you can assure me that she will remain in your company, I shall not require your client to return to the holding cell.”
And with that, and what I thought to be the lightest hint of a smile, the judge stood, nodded to his clerk and left the courtroom.
That was it. Well, almost. There was still the small matter of the judge’s decision in three hours’ time, but what he said gave me hope.