The Orphans 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.
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 Fifteen, scene two: The meeting.
I had no idea what Hannice and Sophie did on Tuesday. They left the house before 10 o’clock, and I didn’t see them again until almost seven in the evening. They were in very high spirits when they arrived, more like a pair of teenagers than a wheelchair-bound forty-something and his carer.
They didn’t volunteer much, either; just that they had seen a few sights and been to some of Hannice’s favourite haunts. When I asked about his physio and personal care, they both said, almost in unison, “We managed.”
They were rather tired, Hannice certainly; I could see it in his face. They retired early and I went back to my book. I had managed to add another couple of chapters during the day and was keen to push it through to its conclusion. I now had a working title for it; this story of marital conflict: she a feted chef, running the kitchen end of a restaurant hovering on the brink of success, and he a somewhat rabid accountant. My working title was “There’s no accounting for taste”.
Wednesday was the day of the meeting. We all knew that the three directors of TanzCap: Fonseca, Thakur and Wangwe would have been briefed by Della, and I had no doubt that they had been instructed to hold out for a figure much higher than we were prepared to offer. I had spoken with Paul the previous day, and acquainted him with our position. He was rather ambivalent on the numbers. His only concern was that someone with the right credentials would hold the 51% of the business that the licence mandated, so the company could continue to do business. The level of capitalisation was of lesser interest, he told me, as JPI could offer top-up funding if needed.
Seven of us assembled around the conference table in Jaxson’s facility: on one side, three TanzCap directors; on the other side, Hannice and I, as negotiators, and Sophie as observer. Paul sat, symbolically, at the head of the table, favouring neither side. He acted as chairman and Sophie as secretary.
Paul called the meeting to order and set out its purpose.
“Jaxson Pharmaceutical (Tanzania) is required by its licence to be 51% owned by Tanzanian interests. This requirement has been met by TanzCap, but TanzCap’s owners, JCap Holdings, wish to divest the holding. Further, the government of Tanzania has indicated that it does not accept that TanzCap is fully owned by Tanzanian interests, as all its shares, apart from nominal amounts held by its directors, are registered to Jont Capital (India).
“It is therefore incumbent on TanzCap to offer their interest in JPT to a suitable Tanzanian national, or to a company that is domiciled in Tanzania and majority owned by Tanzanian interests. The relevant bodies being satisfied that Knight Investment (Tanzania) meets the domicile and ownership requirements, and they having expressed an interest in purchasing from TanzCap, their interest in JPT, the sole purpose of this meeting is for the parties to agree a price.” He then called upon the parties to start their negotiation, agreement to be reached within one hour.
I spoke first. “Having researched the value of JPT, and allowing for the fact that if this deal doesn’t go through, JPT will cease trading, KIT is prepared to make a cash offer amounting to four billion shillings.”
Two of the three TanzCap directors had clearly taken on board their owner’s instructions; they calmly shook their heads from side to side, indicating dissent. My old friend and, as I now know, Kanene’s father, Afolabi Fonseca, was incandescent.
“How can you possibly make such a derisory offer? The company is worth at least thirty billions, fifty-one percent of which is more than fifteen billions. Yet this white devil is offering only four billions!”
Thakur grabbed his sleeve and tried to pull him down, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“Unhand me, Ravi,” he said. “I knew, as soon as this creature came in pretending to be working for Miss Jont, that she was trouble. I told you all. I kept a close watch on what she was doing, where she was going—”
“Sit down and be quiet, Labi,” Mr Wangwe counselled, “Ms Matham is unlikely to raise her offer in the face of such abuse and threats, is she? Remember, you are a director of a significant corporation, not a—”
“Not a what, Abraham? Not a what?” Fonseca demanded to know.
“A shaman, a witch-doctor,” I interjected. He looked ready to explode;
“Who has been talking to you?” he yelled.
“You have,” I calmly replied, “by your actions, by your words and by your behaviour. Now, would you care to sit down and listen to the advice of your colleague, or would you prefer to risk being declared unfit to hold a directorship?”
Thakur and Wangwe grabbed a sleeve each and dragged him into his seat.
“We have had discussions with Miss Jont,” said Mr Thakur.
“We imagined you would have. What is her view?”
“Miss Jont says she would like to realise seven billions.”
“That’s too much for us,” I advised, “I can increase from four to five billions for a quick agreement.”
Fonseca was clearly struggling to hold himself in check, and Wangwe was muttering softly to him, seemingly trying to keep him calm whilst Thakur conducted the negotiation.
Thakur spoke into his phone, put it down and said, “I am authorised to accept five and a half billions. That is our ‘red line’. We cannot, will not accept any less.”
“You are aware, Mr Thakur,” Hannice said, “that if we don’t reach an agreement at this meeting, JPT will be forced to cease trading and go into liquidation. You will then be left with 51% of a company that is worth only the market value of its tangible assets. So…”
“But… but… but…”
“So it is as well that we are prepared to meet your figure of five and a half billion shillings, isn’t it? Have your lawyers draw up the papers and present them to our lawyers by close of play on Friday. We should be able to conclude this and have the cash in your account by this time next week.”
Heads nodded, hands were shaken and the three TanzCap directors left the building. Two of them had a look of satisfaction, if not happiness; the other was still fuming.
I recounted to Hannice, Paul and Sophie details of my last face-to-face with Della, in which she told me what a formidable opponent she would be.
“If that was Della being formidable,” Hannice observed, “it’s a pity we didn’t come up against her on a normal day; we might have got away with the four we started with.”
Marcia came in bearing an ornate silver tray on which stood a magnum of France’s finest and five flutes.
“Why five glasses?” Hannice asked.
“You don’t think I’m bringing the good stuff in and not having a glass myself, do you?” Marcia replied.
We all laughed, as the tension of the meeting melted away.
“I don’t know what I’d do without Marcia,” Paul said.
“I feel the same about Lindy,” Hannice replied, “but I’m afraid I have to let Max have him. Not an easy thing for me, the man is a saint.”
I looked at Hannice incredulously; he had poached my friend, assistant and confidante.
“Look after Sophie, Hannice,” was all I could add.