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 am publishing The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Seventeen, scene one: The conference.
It never ceased to amaze me how much complexity there is behind the scenes when two companies merge. What we were looking at here was not exactly a merger, but moving the administration and accounting functions of two existing companies and one newly formed one into Holy Island Services was no less complex. The entire job took a team of six people a little more than two months, toward the end of which I received a message from Hannice, giving the date for the conference he said he wanted.
I called Lindy into my office.
“You’ve been working very hard on this transfer, Lindy, and I want you to know that I am grateful,” I said.
“Ooh, Max, I’ve loved it,” he enthused. “Do you know, that’s the first time in… no, it’s probably the first time that I’ve ever had a job so challenging, so involved, and so downright important. I’ve been up late nights, worrying about it, I’ve lost sleep, I’ve been hobnobbing with some very clever people — those guys from Florida and London, the accounts programmers, truly brilliant — and I’ve managed to keep up with them. Who knew? Well, almost, anyway. I was never far behind. Now it’s all working. Isn’t that just… just…”
“Brilliant,” I agreed, “and now, as a thank-you, how do you feel about a trip to Knight Global’s main office in London? The conference I told you about earlier is coming up soon, and I’d like you to come with me. I’ll explain more on the way.”
“But… but… I’ve got nothing to wear. I can’t go to London in my usual work clothes. London is a big fashion centre; I’ll be a laughing stock. How long have I got?”
“Before we have to leave!”
“Four days. Is your passport okay?”
“Never mind my passport. Of course my passport is okay; it’s my wardrobe that isn’t. Can I take four days of my annual leave, Max, please?”
“No, you can’t, Lindy,” I said.
“No? Why not? I have to do some serious shopping!” he urged.
“No, you can’t take four days from your annual leave, because I am giving you four free days off to thank you for your hard work,” I explained.
For the second time in the last few months, I found myself subjected to screaming, hand clapping, jumping up and down and a bear-hug, courtesy of Lindisfarne Julian Aldredge.
But that’s what made him Lindy, and especially given the way he works, I loved him for it and in spite of it.
The day before the conference, Lindy and I called in to Knight Global’s chief office and made ourselves known to all the right people. There were no meetings as such, it was all about introductions and what is known, in some parts, as ‘showing face’.
Once I had made sure that Lindy was settled in the hotel, I met up with Henk, and we joined Hannice and Sophie for an informal dinner at Knight Towers. Sophie had thoughtfully arranged for two guest rooms to be prepared so we didn’t have to travel back to London afterwards. When we arrived at the office, for the substantive meeting, some of the IT people were checking out video links with their opposite numbers in the regional offices. Once everything was tested and working, Hannice called the meeting to order.
Around the table, in addition to Hannice, Henk and myself, were Emily Russell, head of HR; Caspar Jakobsson, head of Finance; Owen Nicholls, head of Administration; and Alexandra Duncan, head of Marketing and PR. On video link were Geoff King in Canberra, Carolina Barros in Rio de Janeiro, Scott Enoch in Baltimore, Danny Cho in Singapore and Hannice’s father, from his hospital bed.
The strangest thing happened after the introductions and greetings. Hannice’s father, in a very weak voice, but no less clear for it, said, “This is my son, Hannice. I love him dearly, I am proud of him and I have confidence in him. Have faith in him as you have in me.”
No-one in the room knew what to make of that; even Hannice was uncharacteristically silent; dumbfounded, one might say.