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 two: Paul explains some things.
The meeting at Paul’s office started well. For fifteen minutes or so, we got to know each other a little better. I had always found it easier to do business with a person, rather than with an anonymous corporate being. When I lived and worked in the Middle East, every business meeting started with tea and a social chat. The people I worked with wouldn’t talk business with a stranger, so the personal interaction was vital. During the early part of this meeting, Paul told me some details of his family back in Florida, and of his background. I offered in exchange some information about my history and relationship with Hannice. I also spoke about Sophie, and told him the little I knew about Della.
“Della is a tricky one,” he said. “A hell of a committed businesswoman; hard-nosed as they come and completely driven. She’s her father’s daughter alright, but without old Jonny’s softer edges.
“Jonny built, staffed and started the orphanage in Ruvuma, after a visit in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Saw a need, and was happy to fund it. He told me that he had written into the statutes of his company that it has to fund it in perpetuity, save in a few specific circumstances. Della has invested a lot of time investigating ways of invoking those provisos.”
“So when she found out that she was double-funding it, and funding other orphanages, through TanzCap’s involvement in JPT…“
“I’d have loved to be a fly on her wall then,” Paul chuckled, “I’ll bet she was livid.”
“She was, and that’s why…”
“I know. Let’s look at ways of doing this, with minimal impact on the research, and on the orphanages.”
We discussed various options, none of which worked too well. The only realistic option was for Hannice’s firm to buy TanzCap’s interest.
“I’ll talk to Hannice after the weekend,” I said, “but you know what his conditions will be.”
“That we somehow get informed consent on the kids’ behalf, from someone who will have their interests, and only their interests at heart. I have a few ideas on that, which I’ll brief you on next week, once I’ve spoken to a few people.”
“And this other research you mentioned?” I asked.
“I shouldn’t have mentioned that, Max, but I was desperate to keep you on my side. It was premature and, for the reasons I gave, I can’t say any more,” he explained, adding, “yet.”
“Okay, I’ll take that for now. I’ll talk to Hannice, you talk to whoever you have to talk to, and we’ll reconvene later.”
We started the meeting as business contacts, but parted as colleagues – not yet friends, but that may come with time.
I spent the rest of the weekend going through Hannice’s accounts, to gauge the state of the business he expected me to run for him. The first thing I noticed was that there had been no activity as a trading company for a good few months. If trading meant buying and selling, then the business needed a new name. Nothing had been bought or sold for at least half a year. I could see some short- and medium-term investments that had been producing a solid income for a couple of years and looked set to continue to do so. The licence, though, was for a trading company, not for a financial or investment company. I needed to talk to Hannice about this. He may have excellent connections, but it would only need a new man at the top of any of half a dozen government agencies for the outcome of the annual scrutiny of his company’s accounts to be very different.
Sunday afternoon, I called Sophie.
“How’s Hannice doing?” I asked.
“He’s doing well,” she said. “There’s no change in his physical condition, though. He seems to enjoy the physio, but I don’t see it making any difference yet.”
“Is it meant to, Sophie? I thought Ayesha said, and Doctor Harry agreed, that it was preventative; just to stop his bones and muscles weakening.”
“You’re right,” Sophie concurred. “He’s keeping himself busy in hospital, planning his future. Trouble is, he keeps referring to it as our future.”
“What does he have in mind?”
“Oh, all sorts,” she said, with a note almost of exasperation. “One minute he’s talking about setting up an investigative business; the next it’s writing, then film-making. I don’t think he knows what he wants to do.”
“But he knows what he doesn’t want to do?” I suggested.
“I’m not even sure he knows that, Max. Still, he’s in good spirits and, in broad terms, positive about the future, whether his body mends or not.”
“Is he keeping in touch with his family’s business interests?” I asked.
“Yeah, kind of. He had a meeting with his father’s PA yesterday. He’s been keeping in touch with his father by video-call. His father is very frail now, and I don’t know how much longer he will hang on. When he goes, Hannice, as his only son, will inherit the entire empire.”
“Thanks, Sophie,” I said, “I’ll call Hannice tomorrow morning. Thanks for the update.”