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 Nineteen, scene one: New trials…
During my absence, Paul had called, suggesting he was having some kind of crisis. That’s what I took from his message, anyway.
“Call me as soon as you can, Max. Bit of a crisis here,” it said.
It was just after 10am when I called his office. Marcia put me straight through.
“Max, thank God you’ve called. For some insane reason, I need your approval to move forward on my plans here.”
“Might be something to do with my being the majority shareholder, Paul. You were in on the drafting of the contracts…”
“I know about all that, but it’s still galling, if you’re not there when I need board authorisation to do my job.”
“LJ has my mobile number, Paul. You had only to ask. I’ll make sure Marcia has it, too.”
“What do you need authorised, Paul. You know I’ll probably say yes, especially if it’s something technical.”
Paul chuckled. “Point taken,” he said, then “listen – the research into the inhibitor drug is still going rather slowly…”
“Remind me what the inhibitor drug is,” I asked. I knew what it was, from our earlier conversations, but I wanted him to verbalise it.
“The inhibitor drug is designed to bind the virus to the host’s DNA, and thus render it incapable of surviving in another host, which means it can’t spread.”
“I thought that was showing promise.”
“And so it is, but progress is slower than we would like. The effect of that drug will be to prevent transmission, but it does nothing for the poor bugger who’s already infected. For that we need the drug we were originally developing and for that we need more newly-infected subjects. Will you approve buying some more orphans?”
“No, Paul. I won’t.”
“But we need them.”
“I know you do, Paul; that’s why I’m going to make a suggestion. Contact the orphanages and explain in detail the kind of subjects you are looking for. Tell them about the arrangements you have for the care of these kids and ask them if they have any suitable children they would be happy to release into your charge. Spell out to them that you are not buying the children, that there will be no per-child payment, but make it clear that you are willing to make a substantial donation toward their running costs, whether or not they release any children to you.”
“Whether or not?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yes, Paul. Otherwise what’s the difference from just buying them, if you only give a donation in exchange for children?”
“Okay, I can see that. But if they say no?”
“You accept it, make a donation as a sign of good faith, and move on.”
“And that’s all you’ll approve.”
Paul rang off; not a happy man; and I pressed on with other work.
Later that day, I received a call from Kitwana Nchimbi at the Jont Orphanage.
“Max, I’ve had a request from Jaxson,” he said, then proceeded to detail to me what had been requested. I was happy to hear that it was, to the letter, what I had authorised.
“I’ve told him I’ll call him back this evening with my answer. How should I respond?”
“I can’t help you there, Kitwana. I no longer have any connection with Jont. If you need a decision, it will need to come from Della. Call her, tell her what you’ve told me and, importantly, how you would like to proceed. Have her rubber-stamp your decision.”
“But I don’t know what to decide.”
“Dr Kitwana Nchimbi; you are in charge of the orphanage. All the orphans are in your care; you are the nearest they have to a father. You must make the decision, and you must make it based on the welfare of the children above any other consideration. Consult with Makena and with your medical and caring staff and reach a conclusion, and then present that conclusion to Della for approval. You can do it; I know you can.”
What was going to be next, a call from Della? I had Lindy patch my line through to Nocturne, just in case.