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 am publishing 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 five: Questions and doubts
When Hannice arrived, an hour or so later, he saw me in the chair with a heavily bandaged ankle rested on a pouffe.
“What’s happened, old thing?” he asked, towelling the worst of the rain from his thinning hair.
“Twisted my ankle getting out of a taxi in town,” I said, “I don’t know if it’s a sprain or just a twist. Don’t think it’s broken, anyway.”
“Rest it up for a while, and see if it gets any easier. If not, I’ll get my daktari around.”
“Hannice. Sit down. There’s something I want to talk through with you.”
He sat in the chair opposite me.
“Hannice,” I began, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I got back earlier. Am I doing the right thing here? I came to Tanzania to check on the finances of an orphanage. That’s what I do, that’s my job. I’m a forensic accountant; my job is to look for patterns that could point to fraud. Now, I’m acting as the Chairman of a local company, overseeing its selling off of a large investment. On top of that, I’m getting myself mixed up with these orphans and a global pharmaceutical outfit. Okay, it has some financial dimensions, so I suppose that fits my job, but there are also massive moral implications. I’m trying to influence corporate and government attitudes to a situation that doesn’t represent good against evil, but that involves two different types of good, or maybe even two shades of bad.
“Paul Jaxson thinks it’s okay to pay for orphans that are likely to die of AIDS in a short while, and use them as test subjects for his drugs, without anyone, other than the orphanages who profit from the sale, giving consent on their behalf. I don’t happen to agree. But what if he’s right? What if using possibly questionable means to secure his end of producing a drug that will stop the spread of HIV, actually is better, more virtuous than ensuring these kids die with dignity?
“I really need to know three things, Hannice, and at the moment I’m not sure about any of them: is my position the ‘least worst’ one; is the lesser of two evils a fight worth fighting; and am I the best, or even a suitable person to be fighting it?”
“What do you think, Max?” he asked.
“For Christ’s sake, Hannice; I don’t know. Why do you think I’m asking you?” I said, my voice filled with frustration.
“Not asking you for answers, Max. Just want to know what you are thinking, what your heart and your brain are telling you.”
I took a deep breath and started, “I spent all my childhood, right through until I went to uni, living in my father’s shadow. I know it’s normal for parents to make decisions for their children, and you can’t expect youngsters to be consulted about major stuff like house moves and job changes. But when someone offers a child a choice of sweets, it would be usual for the child, not her father, to decide which one she would like. When, as a teenager, she goes into an accessory shop and her father decides, regardless of her wishes, which handbag she wants, it’s all a bit much. These are all small decisions. I know how I felt when I wasn’t allowed an opinion on small things. How much worse is it when these orphans are not involved in questions of their life and death? There has to be a better way, Hannice. There has to be.”
“I see your point, Max. Problem, as far as I can see, is not so much that the children aren’t making the decisions themselves. They can hardly, as babies and toddlers, give informed consent on something that even grown-ups find difficult. What is wrong is who is making these decisions. There are two parties involved: the first, Jaxsons, has a laudable aim of producing a drug that will potentially be a life-saver for millions, and presumably swell his company’s coffers as a result. All businesses exist to make money, Max, it’s only how they choose to do it that differentiates them. Making money is Jaxson’s aim, making pills, the means. The children are just a commodity. The money they pay to the orphanages is probably lost in their accounts as incidental research costs. The second party to the decisions is the orphanages. They are, of course, interested in the money they receive.
“Orphanages are fiendishly expensive things to run properly. Sure, they look after their charges well, and without this money, some could fold, but perhaps they don’t always have the interests of the individual orphans at heart. If they do, and if they believe Jaxson’s mantra, that the children are going to a place where they can get better treatment, then they’re incredibly naïve. If the kids are going for treatment, why do they suppose they’re being paid a king’s ransom for each child? I think that certainly makes your position the least worst. And I think you know the answers to your other questions.”
“Thanks, Hannice. Back to the board Monday morning, then.”