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 three: Start digging.
Danny’s receptionist showed me to my ‘office’ when I arrived the following morning. A paper notice had been placed on the door, below the wired plate window. It read “Max Matham. Please knock”. The permanent plaque above the window said “File room”.
Even compared to what I had in Dar, the office Danny had arranged for me was generously proportioned. There was no window in the room, half of which was taken up with four vertical filing racks perpendicular to the back wall, the rest of the wall space hosted standard, four-drawer filing cabinets, the door being nestled in between two of them. A large part of what remained of the room’s floor space was occupied by a large table that had the appearance of having been retired from a conference room. This was to be my desk. Four plastic chairs were set around the table, and at one end sat a PC monitor and keyboard, its tower being concealed below.
Once I had set myself up and logged the PC in to Danny’s network, I fired up my laptop and logged in to Knight’s VPN in London. That way, I was able to bypass his proxy and caching server, thus remaining invisible to his systems. I fully expected there to be communications that I wouldn’t want to be discoverable by his IT team.
It felt good to be doing the work that I was trained and experienced to do. I had spent so much time in the five months since first becoming involved with this business, doing things for which I had no training or experience, that it was refreshing to be back on home turf again. I threw myself into it with enthusiasm. I had asked for access to files, bread and butter for a forensic accountant, and here I was in the company’s archive. Together with unlimited access to the local network and, through my laptop, the ability to follow trails that led out of the company, I had everything I needed; except the answers. My job was to find them.
Trawling through the accounts and sales files didn’t give me any real pointers, so I started talking to various members of the staff. The hope here is always that someone will say something that is at variance with the story told by the files, thereby opening up a path of investigation. All of the staff I spoke to were either well-rehearsed, or there was no duplicity.
A week of investigation and enquiry revealed nothing untoward. On Friday morning, I called in the employee whom Danny had suspected of being a mole, Senior Marketing Executive Raymond Ang.
“Mr Ang; I assume you are familiar with the reasons for my presence?” I commenced.
“Call me Ray, please. And yes, Miss Matham…”
“Yes, Max, I am. As I heard it, Danny is worried about the way the company’s revenue is falling off, and he’s looking for a scapegoat,” he replied.
“In essence, yes,” I said, “but it’s not a scapegoat he’s looking for, it’s a cause.”
“And he thinks I’m that cause.”
“He has noticed certain things that, taken together, seem to point in your direction, but that doesn’t mean it’s down to you. That’s what I’m here to find out.”
“Danny is absolutely right,” Ray said, “it is down to me.”
“It is?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, “but not in the way you think.”
“You have my attention, pray continue.”
“In February, about six months ago, I was blessed with a major win on the Singapore Sweep; a win for which I opted for no publicity. I didn’t want people to know that I had become very wealthy. I suppose I started spending more freely, which could make some people think I was getting extra money from somewhere, but I’m being mostly sensible. I’ve seen people ruin their lives after winning big money, and I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me.”
“That explains why you appeared to have extra money to spend, Ray, but how could that affect company turnover?”
“I was just coming to that, Max,” he said. “I was, I should say, among the top fifty marketers in Singapore. I was driven and ruthless, and hungry for business. The reason I was pushing so hard to win business is because it was increasing my income. I had a lifestyle that wasn’t really extravagant, but that I needed a regular, high level of commission to support. I was working to maintain the lifestyle my family had come to expect.”
“And you don’t need to do that any more.”
“Precisely, Max. I invested my win, and the interest that pays me each month is more than I ever made in commission. My salary is now more than enough.”
“And so you stopped selling hard, because you were no longer hungry.”
“And so I stopped selling hard, because I was no longer hungry.”
“I shall have to pass this to Danny, Ray,” I said, “if only to convince him that you aren’t involved in anything under-hand.”
“I knew I would have to come clean at some stage, Max,” he replied. “Let’s get it over and done with.”