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.
Beginning on 10 January 2016, I shall publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Nine, scene one: A long sleep.
My motives and feelings were still not clear in my mind. If I was to have any real control over my involvement in things here, I needed first to be certain about my reasons for doing it. The why must direct the what, not the other way around. This was one of those occasions when I needed a listener, someone who would let me talk, without judging or suggesting answers. That meant someone who was not your average man. Even Hannice, much as I respected him, would be forced by his nature and upbringing to suggest solutions. It’s what men do. Men are wired to solve problems. I needed a woman. I needed Sophie. I needed her here, with me. But I couldn’t have her here with me, because she was in England, mostly with Hannice, and all the signs were pointing to her staying with him. I didn’t even have my cat with me; and Rex and Prince, Hannice’s dogs, are not only male, but stupid mutts to boot! I considered Kanene, but with the best will in the world, the mix of her English and my Swahili weren’t up to it.
Paul Jaxson may not have been the enemy I had assumed him to be. We were on the same side in relation to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and his latest statements didn’t point to him being at all antagonistic to my aims. Quite the opposite, in fact. Everyone I had been in contact with about this issue was, in different ways, following the same path, with one notable exception: Della Jont.
From the language used in her dossiers, and from what she had said to me earlier, it was clear that Della did not want to be involved with the orphanage in Ruvuma. Her father had founded it from purely philanthropic motives, and had written into the statutes of JCap that support of it couldn’t be terminated for any reason other than its dissolution by, or with the consent of the Tanzanian authorities. Della had to fund it. Selling the HIV-positive orphans to JPT reduced the cost to her of funding the orphanage. She had asked me to investigate the orphanage with the hope of shedding costs even further. That is why she was so upset to learn that she was not only funding 51% of her ‘savings’, but also of many other orphanages around the country. Small wonder she was angered.
That knowledge didn’t make life any easier for me. I could see no simple way to disentangle myself from Della’s clutches; at least as long as my mother was still alive. The more I thought about this, the more I realised just how out of my depth I was.
I was an accountant. According to my clients, I was a good one. And yet, here I was, effectively running two companies operating in fields with which I had no familiarity, in a country where the laws and practices were as baffling to me as the language. On top of that, I was deeply involved in questions of legality and morality, of care and medicine that had even the acknowledged experts scratching their heads, and involved with people who had the ability, the means, the motives and the ruthlessness to do serious harm to me and to those I care for. Just who the hell did I think I was?
When I was a child, being sent to bed without supper was a punishment. The way I was feeling at that point, it was more like a reward. I took myself off to my bed. I wanted to sleep. I needed to sleep. I was desperate for sleep. That is the only thing in the world that I desired to do. I was beginning to think, that if I never woke up again, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I drifted off with that sombre thought in my mind.
I awoke to see Kanene looking down at me. For once, I had no trouble reading her expression; her face was a study in worry and concern.
“Mama is awake!” she exclaimed, her expression softening and becoming almost joyful.
“What’s troubling you, Kanene?” I asked.
“I did not know if you would wake, Mama Max. You been asleep long time.”
“What is the time now?”
“It’s afternoon Mama, time for tea.”
“I must have been tired, Kanene,” I said, “Why didn’t you wake me earlier?”
“I tried, Mama. I tried yesterday, too. Today, I fetched the daktari.” It was then that I noticed Hannice’s doctor with her.
“Yesterday?” I asked, “What do you mean, yesterday?”
“You slept all day yesterday and before. I couldn’t wake you. I tried very hard, but no.”
“So today is?”
“Friday? What’s happening, Doctor?” I asked, as the doctor was closing his bag.
“I can’t be certain, Miss Matham,” he replied, “If you want an immediate opinion, I would have to say that you’ve been drugged. Your sleep wasn’t natural, and I needed to give you something to bring you around again.”
“But I was fine when I went to bed … on Tuesday. I was feeling a bit low, but otherwise normal.”
“Perhaps someone broke in and gave you something when you were asleep. Let me look at you,” he suggested. He looked me over closely, I assumed to find an injection site, but how likely was that, 72 hours later? He found nothing.
“I think you should undergo some tests and a check-up at the hospital, just to be safe,” he said. “Do you want me to pop back later to check on you?”
“I’ll call you if I have any problems,” I replied, at which he left.
If I had been drugged, it was not unlikely that the Gorgeous Della had a hand in it somewhere. I was feeling better, and asked Kanene to fix me some food. The cramping pains and loud borborygmic noises in my stomach suggested that three days without food was more than it would take without protest.
While my housegirl was preparing supper, I decided to take a look around. Kanene had said that she had been trying to awaken me, so unless she was lying; a possibility I wasn’t ready to discount; I hadn’t been moved. If I had been drugged, and not moved, it must have been to keep me from witnessing something happening in the house, or elsewhere.
Nothing appeared to be missing or, as far as I could see, disturbed. At the same time, there had to have been a reason someone drugged me and left me in a near-coma for three days. I opened my laptop and started it up. Everything looked normal. A check of the various history and log files showed no activity during my ‘absence’. Either that, or someone had taken great pains to remove all trace of any activity. I called Paul Jaxson’s office, to see if he could throw any light on it. He wasn’t there, but Marcia promised she would ask him to call me as soon as he could.
Shortly after supper, while I was relaxing with a cup of Lady Grey tea (note to self: thank Hannice for his excellent range of teas), the phone rang. It was Paul Jaxson.
“Good evening, Max,” he said. “Listen; I’m sorry for barking at you last time we met. I guess I’ve let this whole situation get to me.”
“No need to apologise, Paul. It was as much my fault as yours. Let’s put that behind us, shall we?” suggested.
“Sure thing. You called me earlier, Max. What can I do for you?” I explained my situation, and asked him if anything had happened that someone might not want me to know about. “Nothing I know of,” he replied. “I had an interesting visit yesterday from one of TanzCap’s directors, though. He claimed that the action you are proposing doesn’t have the backing of the board. He said that you are, in his words, riding rough-shod over them and ignoring their input. I tried calling you to bring you into the meeting, but there was no answer from your land-line or mobile.”
“That could explain things”, I said. “Which director was it?”
“I told him that their owner had made and communicated to them a decision that they could not alter,” he said, ignoring my question.
“Which director was it?” I asked again.
“I also told him that it was down to you and me to work through implementing Ms Jont’s wishes. The board’s job was to support and assist with the implementation.”
“Paul,” I said, knowing he could hear me tapping my fingers on the desk, “which director was it?”
“That’s just the thing, Max,” he said. “He showed no surprise when I couldn’t get you on the phone, and made me promise that I wouldn’t reveal who he was. He claimed to speak for the full board and said that his identity was irrelevant.”
“Can we meet on Monday, Paul?” I asked.
“I’m free tomorrow morning, if you prefer. Can you do 10am?”
“10am it is, Paul. Oh; and as it’s Saturday, not really a working day, will you please let me ask you about your poor son and his injury?”
“As it’s you, Max,” he conceded, “and as you asked so nicely, we’ll take a couple minutes to get to know each other better. Tell you what; make it 9.30”
“I’ll see you at 9.30am tomorrow, in your office. Have a good evening, Paul.”
That was interesting. The hard-nosed businessman of legend that is Paul Jaxson appears to be softening. Don’t ask why, just accept it with gratitude.