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 Eighteen, scene one: In UK.
The conference over, Lindy and I awarded ourselves the luxury of a long weekend at leisure in UK. Lindy had expressed a hankering to visit Lindisfarne, to see what was behind his name – he had already downloaded all the output from that group and was memorising some of their songs. I waved him off as he took the northbound train and told him to make sure he was back in our central London hotel by Monday evening. I said I’d meet him at seven, and he was not to be late.
I went back to my house to check that everything was in order, and contacted an agency to set up a contract for them to manage the house, and to offer it for rental, furnished, for discrete but renewable fixed periods of six months. My feeling was that it could be some time before I returned to live in UK again, but I wasn’t ready to sell up, not yet anyway. For the first time in many months I slept in my own bed in my own house. It was a rare pleasure, but a little chilly after months in East Africa. I signed the contract with the property agency, handed them the keys and returned to London.
On a hunch, I called Danny Cho from the hotel on Monday afternoon.
“I’m glad you’ve called, Max,” he said. “I have a bit of a situation developing here. I’m sure I can deal with it, but it would be good to have some Head Office support, in case it turns ugly. I was going to ask Mr Knight to come out, but as he is on some kind of sabbatical… Not that I don’t think he deserves one, you understand; he most surely does, but it does mean he’s not available.”
“So I’ll have to do instead?”
“That’s not what I meant. I was going to say that as you have his full authority, your presence is every bit as good as his.”
“Okay, I’ll take that. This situation; is it likely to turn ugly, as you put it?”
“I hope not, and I don’t think so, but I would rather be safe than sorry.”
“Tell me about it, Danny,” I said.
“It’s a staff problem, Max. I have a strong feeling that one of my senior people is passing information to a competitor. Our market share is falling at similar rate to that by which his personal finances are improving,” he explained.
“Do you have anything more to go on than your strong feeling?” I asked.
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
“I can’t come across next week, but the week after I probably could. Is that any help?”
“It certainly is, Max. Let me know your arrival details, and I’ll fix up transport and hotel for you.”
When I met Lindy for dinner, I told him about my conversation with Danny.
“We’ll tie up any loose ends next week,” I said, “then you’ll be on your own for a week or so. Think you can handle that?”
“I think I’m going to be on my own quite a lot, Max,” he replied. “Listen, you are going to be mega-important, looking after finance for the company worldwide, and totally in charge in Africa. If I was just your PA, I’d probably be swanning around all over the place with you, but I’m not just your PA, am I? I am in charge of my own division. My place is in Dar-es-Salaam, running Holy Island Services.”
“Not entirely, Lindy. I do expect you to support me on some my trips, just not this one; it’s too early. We’ll talk about this in detail later.”
The day I had planned to go to Singapore, Hannice’s father died. I got word through to Sophie that I would stay around for the funeral. I wanted to support Hannice at this time, and as I had known the old man, if only a little, I really did want to pay my respects.
The funeral took place three days later, and was rather a grand affair. It was, undoubtedly, more than Hannice’s father would have wanted, but he was a high-profile man, loved and respected by a lot of people. Those people wanted to come and pay their respects, and after all, the funeral isn’t for the benefit of the deceased, it’s for those that are left behind. I often thought that the wishes of the subject of the ceremony were largely irrelevant.
Among the people who attended the old boy’s send-off were all of Knight’s regional directors as well as all the senior personnel, and many of the junior ones, from his head office. The presence of all of these people prompted a number of meetings, including one at which I repeated my plans, both as CFO in relation to the regional offices, and for the Africa region under my charge.
Danny Cho asked me when I would be able to visit him; he was planning to return to Singapore on the Saturday. I told him I would follow him, arriving at his office on Monday afternoon.