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. Another first: 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 so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Eight, scene two: Meeting with PJ.
I needed to take stock of where I was. I wanted to have a positive influence on the orphans’ situation, without hampering the efforts to find a cure for AIDS. I also wanted, if I could, to do some good in relation to the dreadful things happening to people with albinism. I wanted to do all this without negatively affecting my business, which needs to see me through the next twenty years or so, and give me a pension.
On the other side of the sheet were the things other people expected me to do. Della Jont wanted me to devote myself to the interests of her business, for which she was paying me well – four times what I could make on my own. On top of that, Hannice expected, in fact needed me to run his business for him, at least while he was deciding what he wanted to do with his own life. He was paying me rather well for doing that, too. And a potential client had some work lined up in Singapore and Australia, for which I would have loved to quote. I was better placed and more secure than I had been for a long time, but there is more to life than financial security. Only people who have no money worries have the luxury of thinking like that, but that was how I was feeling then.
Balancing these competing requirements was never going to be easy, but now it also looked like I would soon be losing Sophie to Hannice. Sophie’s organisational skills were so much better than mine, and had been instrumental in keeping me sane for the past few years, and her more easy-going attitude had stopped me taking myself too seriously.
As I was considering these complications and trying, or so it seemed, to think myself into a depression, the house phone rang. Saved by the bell! Marcia, Paul Jaxson’s PA, called to let me know that Paul was due to arrive in Dar the following morning. In deference to his recently completed journey, I booked a 4pm meeting with him at his office.
I spent the following morning delving into Jaxson’s latest international accounts and public statements, to see if there was anything else I could bring to the table.
I reached his office a little before 4pm, and presented myself to Marcia. Paul was ready to see me straight away, and rose from his seat as I entered his private office.
“Good afternoon, Max. What have you got for me?”
“Hello, Paul. How is your son?”
“We’re not here to discuss my family or my private life,” he said. “Those are topics for social events, not for work. However, everything is fine, thank you for asking. What have you got for me?”
“You’ve spoken to Della,” I said, by way of introduction, “so you must be aware that she is adamant that TanzCap should no longer be involved with Jaxson Pharmaceutical in Tanzania. It will come as no surprise to you, that she has charged me with disposing of the TanzCap interest in the joint venture. We have not yet been successful in our search for a buyer, so now I have to give you notice that I am invoking clause 183 of the agreement. This clause stipulates that if either party wishes to withdraw from the partnership and no single buyer can be found, that portion of the business may be floated on the Dar-es-Salaam Stock Exchange. This public offering needs the consent of the other party, who must first be given the option to buy all the shares at a price agreed by the parties or, in the event no agreement can be reached, a price set by a market analyst appointed by the Capital Markets and Securities Authority.”
“You want JPI to buy you out; is that what you are telling me?”
“In a word, yes. I’ll confirm it in writing by this time tomorrow.”
“I’d like you to hold fire for a while.”
“Why so?” I asked.
“I can’t own more of the company than I do already, because of the local participation rules, and I don’t want it floated. This is a cut-throat business. JPI has serious competitors, who would love to have a stake in the most promising research in the field. What I am going to tell you now must never, under any circumstances, go out of this room. Can I rely on your discretion?”
“Discretion is one of the cornerstones of my profession,” I assured him. “Provided what you want to tell me isn’t illegal and doesn’t result in worse treatment or more danger for the kids, and provided it doesn’t place significant risk on JCap, then yes, you can.”
“I can confirm all that.” His tone changed, became lower, almost secretive. “We are engaged in another area of research, which is still under wraps. Even in my company, no more than a dozen people, including those directly involved, know of its existence. I can’t give you any detailed information, but if it gives the results we are hoping for, you will no longer need to worry about the orphans. That’s all I can tell you for now.”
He had piqued my interest. “Why can you not say more?”
“Two reasons: commercial security and, somewhat annoyingly, reasons allied to morality, both corporate and personal. Commercial security is obvious. If you were to end up compromised by someone who wishes us ill or covets our markets, you would have nothing to tell them. The other reason is more insidious. If anything were to leak out, especially at this early stage of research, the world’s press would have a field day. If there’s one thing the press does better than bad news, it’s premature good news. How often have you seen interviews on the TV news where some poor scientist has used words like, ‘this is promising research, but it will be some years before it will result in publicly available product’? It’s dreadful; people suffering from HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and so on, hearing that scientists are close to a cure, only to be told that the research needs a few more years, followed by clinical trials, and it will be ten years before doctors will be able to prescribe whatever drug results from it. They are probably in a worse place after that news than they were before. Imagine being told that you have five years to live, but a cure will be available within ten! I’m not having that, not on my watch. Apart from which, this research, like so much before it, could prove to be a dead-end street. It happens, Max, more often than you know; more often than we like to admit in public.”
“I can’t take that to Della. It’s no more than a pat on the back and ‘there, there, everything will be alright’. There’s no substance to what you have said to me. You’re as bad as my father with his ‘trust me, I know what is best for you’ palaver. I fell for it then, I was just a child. I won’t fall for it now.”
“Now I understand,” he said, a condescending tone in his voice, “All this righteousness about the poor, dying orphans is no more than you trying to get back at your father, because you don’t like the way he brought you up. Well, brava, Max, brava.” His expression changed, hardened, “Now stop wasting my time. Go and report back to your boss what I have told you. Or would you like me to do that for you, to save you having to decide how to tell her?”
Once again, I was angry. Very angry. Angry at him for goading me about my past, but more angry at myself; for allowing him to get to me like that, and for being stupid enough to give him the ammunition and means, gift-wrapped and labelled. I jumped up from my chair, sending it flying backwards, stormed out and slammed the door behind me. I had lost that battle. He had really got to me, and I shouldn’t have let him. He was right, up to a point. Some of my indignation at what he was doing stemmed from my experience at the hands of my well-meaning but controlling father. Not all of it, though. Not by any means. What he was doing was wrong. I had to believe that. If not, then what I was doing, what I was feeling, was pointless. I would be better spending my time carrying out Della’s wishes coldly and efficiently, rather than actually caring about what was going on here.