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 three: Hannice to the rescue?
I made a video call to Hannice the following day. During the initial pleasantries, he confirmed that he was happy with the way things were progressing, that he was trying to map out a future, though he didn’t know for sure what he wanted to do with his life, and that he needed Sophie to be a part of it, if only to continue the physiotherapy. I had the distinct impression that there was more to it than he was letting on.
“Hannice,” I said, turning to business, “the books for your African company don’t tie in with its description as a trading company. Your licence to trade describes the business as an import/export and trading company. There is no sign of any of those activities for more than six months, and none at a significant level for more than three years. What is evident, is the growth of a highly profitable investment portfolio. If a zealous official goes through your annual returns, there’s a risk he or she could cause trouble.”
“No worries,” he replied, confidently, “plenty of contacts; good chums that wouldn’t let a chap down.”
I injected a note of caution. “As long as you are here and nurturing those relationships, and as long as none of your contacts is replaced.”
“Point taken. Your suggestion is?”
“Form another local company, something like Knight Investments (Tanzania),” I said. “Whether that is directly owned by London or Dar is probably irrelevant, though Dar ownership would seal its local credentials. If you agree, you can start the paperwork there, and I’ll start the ball rolling here.”
“Sounds like you want me to stay corporate with Knight,” he complained, “still; sound suggestion. Like the name, too – KIT. Leave it with me.”
After a brief pause, during which I was consulting my notes ready for the next topic, he blurted out, in a manner that suggested embarrassment or at least a feeling of awkwardness, “Listen. The old man is getting weaker by the day, and the medics don’t think he’ll hold out much longer. That means I’ll have to take up the reins as chairman pretty soon. Not a problem, I can do it from here, but I’ll not be here for long. I expect to move to the big house within a couple of months. Thing is, I don’t want to run the business; at least, I don’t think that’s what I want.”
“Sophie told me you were juggling a few ideas.”
“Quite. Could go any way at the moment. Meantime, bit of a proposition for you. I’m going to need a CEO. Interested? I would stay on as Chairman, of course, and you would report to me.”
“Wow, Hannice! That’s a great compliment, of course, but I need time to consider your offer—”
“Suggestion, Max,” he interrupted, “I’m not in a position to make it an offer yet.”
“Yeah – semantics,” I replied, mockingly. “Either way, probably not. You stay on as Chairman and CEO, and I might look at CFO.”
“Let’s talk about this later,” he suggested.
“Yes, let’s,” I agreed. “Now, with your investment hat on, what are your thoughts about investing in JPT?”
“What’s the status on the informed consent question?”
I brought Hannice up to date on all the conversations I had had with Paul, and added my views on the current state of things. I didn’t mention the new research, partly because Paul had asked me not to, but mostly because the likelihood of its being a dead-end was still so strong, that I didn’t think it should be factored in at that stage.
“I don’t think Paul is a bad guy,” I concluded, “neither do I think that his methods are evil, as I did at first. His position is awkward, and I think some of his decisions might not have been the best, but they weren’t the worst, either.”
“What changed your mind?” he asked.
“Della’s attitude,” I said. “When she found out that, far from saving money on the running of her father’s orphanage; something she’s very keen to get out of, but can’t; she is indirectly funding a number of orphanages. To describe her as angry would be like describing a hurricane as ‘a bit blowy’.”
“Tell you what I’ll do,” he said, after a lengthy pause for thought, “If Paul can come up with a credible supervisory régime, I’ll consider making a majority shareholding in JPT KIT’s first investment. That means not until KIT is formed and operational, and with a certain Max Matham at its helm.”
“We both have some thinking to do,” I said, “we’ll talk later in the week.”
Hannice had put me in a difficult position. I didn’t want to work for someone else. In normal employment, however good a job you do and however good the regular income is, ultimately you’re working to help someone else’s bottom line. I wanted my efforts to affect my bottom line; my income, my profit.
This was not a decision I wanted to face in the middle of this business with Paul, Della and the rest, although I knew that this suggestion from Hannice changed that landscape completely.